Not since the end of the Second World War has the world seen a worse humanitarian crisis, UN officials said earlier this month. They refer to the rapidly escalating food crisis which is unfolding in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. It is becoming known as the ‘Four Famines’ and it equates to almost the entire population of Australia being at risk of starvation. In South Sudan, people are already dying of hunger.
When questioned about Australia’s contribution to helping avert the worst humanitarian crisis in 73 years, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia is “absolutely pulling its weight, and more”.
The reality is what the Australian Government has announced is utterly inadequate compared with what is needed urgently to avert a humanitarian tragedy.
Since January 2017, the Australian Government has announced $34 million for South Sudan and Somalia to help tackle the effects of famine and assist those at risk of starvation. Since 2014, over $120 million has been given to the two countries. But this new crisis is unprecedented and our response must reflect its scale.
The task of requesting life-saving support for these regions has been made more difficult due to the Government’s massive cuts to the aid budget since 2013. In 2015-16, Australia’s aid budget to Sub Saharan Africa was cut by 70%. The Government cut aid to its lowest level ever at a time when the need for global co-operation on tough challenges like conflict, poverty, climate change and inequality has never been greater.
If those cuts had not gone ahead, the annual aid budget would still be at least $5.6 billion per annum, not the $3.8 billion it is today. If aid had continued to increase towards the pre-2014 bipartisan commitment, aid would now be at $7.6 billion per annum (almost double what it is) and Australia would be in a stronger position to respond.
Each day, the famine crisis worsens. Each day, profoundly disturbing images filter through in pockets of the media. The UN has said that $5.8 (AUD) billion is needed by July to avert a catastrophe. At the moment there is little sign that this will be met. By anyone’s calculation Australia’s recent funding of $34 million misses the mark of “absolutely pulling its weight, and more”.
The world is desperate for courageous leadership. Australia could step up and provide global leadership by making a bold announcement of funding and call on other countries to do the same. Or the Government can choose to do the minimum and hope no one notices.
On March 8, the Campaign for Australian Aid launched a petition calling on the Australian Government to at least double its latest $20 million (AUD) contribution.
Emergency funding would provide immediate food to children and pregnant women so they can breastfeed infants. It helps respond to the effects of malnutrition and gives people access to healthcare. Australian support would give people alternatives so they can cope through this crisis.
Almost 260,000 people, half of them young children, died of hunger during the last famine in Somalia in 2010-12. It was a catastrophic political failure. Deaths could and should have been prevented.
These four famines are on track to be much worse, but it too can be averted if necessary funds are provided now.
It is human instinct to do something to help alleviate the cause of suffering wherever we see it. Australians are compassionate, fair, and generous. Our Government should step up on the world stage and proudly reflect Australians’ values by increasing our efforts to avert the worst humanitarian crisis in 73 years.
To add your voice, sign the Campaign for Australian Aid’s petition here.