Death by starvation


This op-ed was published in the Huffington Post Canada on June 8, 2017.

By the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie.

The scope of the famine in South Sudan, combined with severe food shortages in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, has not been seen since the end of World War II. In terms of numbers, these crises alone affect the equivalent of over half of the population of Canada.

This is not the first time that humanitarian aid workers have been called on to fight and prevent starvation. However, it is the first time that they have had to do it for over 20 million people, including 1.4 million children at risk of death.

Climate change is certainly partly to blame for droughts that destroy crops, kill livestock and dry up rivers. However, the main cause of these particular crises is conflict. When starvation is used as a weapon of war.

If the guns were silenced and humanitarian access were restored, it would save more lives in the short term than the return of the rains and crops.

Canada cannot remain silent in the face of these crises, which disproportionately affect women and children. We are aligning our efforts at the diplomatic level for an improved security context, and boosting our support for further development and humanitarian programs. We also know that long-term solutions must also be local. This year, Canada provided close to $120 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the emergency appeal by the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. But, to date, the response remains underfunded.

Unlike earthquakes that suddenly destroy entire cities and tragically kill hundreds of people, death by hunger is slower, more silent, and even inconceivable to us in 2017—but it is very real. And although none of us can predict when or where the next natural disaster will strike, we do know that over 20 million lives are currently at stake in Africa and Yemen, not only because of food shortages, but because of a lack of access to water and sanitation. When thousands of people seek refuge in a camp that doesn’t have  soap and water to wash their hands, deadly illnesses, such as cholera, spread quickly. The human body, already weakened by lack of essential nutrients, will succumb more easily to infections of all kinds.

Each of us, in our own way, can lend a hand to help save these  millions of lives at risk.

We also know that Canadians are not insensitive to this reality and want to help. This is why the Government of Canada is ready to do more and has created the Famine Relief Fund. Until June 30, Canada will put one dollar aside toward the fund for every dollar donated to registered Canadian charities that are raising funds to fight the famine. These funds will support the valiant and difficult efforts of Canadian, international and local humanitarian aid workers to provide food, clean drinking water, sanitation services, emergency shelters and other essential services.

I encourage all Canadians to give generously to the organization of their choice over the next few weeks.

Together, we will help save lives.

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