Wondering how you can make a difference for some of the nearly 20 million people experiencing food insecurity around the world? Mike offers some perspective on the East Africa famine and drought crisis and how to help.
International Medical Corps Regional Coordinator for East Africa
Who He Is:
As Regional Coordinator for East Africa, Michael McCusker oversees International Medical Corps’ work in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Mike has nearly a decade of experience in both emergency response and capacity building programs. In response to the hunger crises in the regions, his mobile medical teams are providing integrated health and nutrition services in remote communities in South Sudan to care for severely malnourished children and help prevent malnutrition from taking hold; in Somalia, his teams began scaling up response efforts across the country in December 2016, including running one of the only stabilization facilities in the Mudug region, caring for children and mothers who have been affected by the drought. In Ethiopia and Kenya, they are scaling up services to respond, including providing health care, water and sanitation services, running emergency seed distributions and building the capacity of the health system to deliver services. Mike took a break from overseeing this work to visit GlobalGiving and share his insight on a Facebook Live interview in May, 2017.
Q: Famine has been or will be declared in several parts of the world. Can you summarize the situation as we face it today, and what’s causing the food crisis?
A: There are as many as 20 million people on the brink of famine around the world right now. People in two of the countries countries at greatest risk are Somalia and South Sudan. In February, the U.N. declared famine in South Sudan—a major concern as it signifies that lives have already been lost.
Many different factors can result in food crises. In Somalia, over the half the country is facing shortages of food. Ongoing drought has resulted in failed crops, the death of livestock and limited options for families who primarily make their living from farming. Some 620,000 men, women, and children have left their rural homes and are arriving in urban areas, especially Mogadishu, in search of help. Moreover, many of these people live in places that cut off from humanitarian workers because of insecurity.
In South Sudan, the first country in six years where famine has been officially declared, families have fled to islands to escape conflict, and are surviving on quarterly food distributions, and when possible, fish; they are using river water for drinking and showering, vastly increasing their chances of spreading disease that can exacerbate malnutrition. Much of the area affected is swampy, not readily accessible. Just to get to some people who are most affected, we have to travel by helicopter and then by boat. We’ve seen extremely distressing situations; one mother told us she had been feeding her children water lilies for up to a year, and they were at risk of dying from diarrhea.
Q: What is your organization doing to help people affected by drought and famine in parts of Africa, such as South Sudan and Somalia?
A: At International Medical Corps, our primary mandate is as a first responder, but as we provide urgently needed services, we also work with the local community to build back better. Across Somalia and South Sudan in the face of these crises, we are running integrated health and nutrition programs, launching mobile medical units to provide life-saving services for individuals in some of the hardest-to-reach and most remote areas in need of support.
Inside Leer County within South Sudan, at the epicenter of the crisis, International Medical Corps’ mobile medical teams and 15 community health workers are one of the only reliable options for some 50,000 families to access health care. In Somalia, we are providing integrated nutrition and primary and secondary health services, scaling new outpatient therapeutic programs for malnourished children and mothers, delivering water, sanitation and hygiene service, and more.
Alongside the provision of health and nutrition care, we are also working to address the root causes by training local health workers to initiate a community-managed approach and help ensure sustainable services.
Q: When disasters strike around the world, people want to help. What’s the best way for people to support response efforts in East Africa and other places?
A: When there’s a natural disaster, there’s a lot of media attention and, often, financial support. In a more protracted crisis like that in South Sudan and the Horn of Africa, it’s a challenge to maintain the global attention on the topic. When you think about supporting people, it’s not just about getting food, it’s about addressing the longer term issues.
The scale of the disaster is massive. The demand is far-outweighing the supply. We need increased attention and increased funding. We need more resources to reach the growing number of people affected. At International Medical Corps, we have a strong capacity to reach those most affected and need the continued cash assistance and media attention to continue the provision of integrated health and nutrition programs.
Q: Are individual donations making a difference in this crisis?
A: Absolutely. We see hundreds of people fleeing in South Sudan, and for those that are able to make it to IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, there are people there helping administer life-saving services. I’ve recently traveled to South Sudan myself, and I saw a mother walking by herself. She’d walked 90 kilometers and lost everyone in her family. But we were able to administer life-saving services to her. You can see it actively making a difference.
Individual donors are critical to International Medical Corps’ response. Flexible gifts in any amount can give our health workers the opportunity to respond quickly; fill gaps in programs; and allow us to innovate, change or adapt programs based on the changing needs on the ground. The support we receive from individuals and through GlobalGiving, for example, can help us make sure that we’re able meet priority needs when and where they matter most.
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