By Kim Plummer Krull
After seeing firsthand the suffering as starving Somalis pour into the Dadaab refugee camps, the Rev. Dr. Walter Obare, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), is requesting additional financial support to meet urgent needs as the deadly famine spreads in East Africa.
Obare described how some 1,500 refugees enter the Kenyan camps every day, “many having walked over 250 kilometers, carrying young children, some dying on the way and having to leave their bodies on the road to die without burial.”
In addition to starving Somali refugees, Obare said Kenyans are dying from hunger. On Kenyan television news, Obare said he has seen pictures of “children sucking milk from goats, and the goats are dying; a child sucking from the breast of a mother, and the mother was already dead.”
“Two days before we left for the United States, it was announced that 14 people had died of starvation in Turkana [a district in northern Kenya that’s home to ELCK congregations],” Obare said in an Aug. 10 interview at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis. Obare was there in conjunction with work on behalf of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI), a campaign to mobilize U.S. Lutherans to help end malaria deaths in Africa. (Learn more about LMI at www.lutheranmalaria.org or www.facebook.com/lutheranmalaria.)
Limited rainfall since 2010 has created severe drought and widespread food shortages affecting more than 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, according to news reports.
To date, LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) has provided a total $150,000 in grants to Lutheran partners for famine relief in East Africa: $100,000 to the LCMS partner church in Kenya and a $50,000 grant to Lutheran World Relief (LWR), the pan-Lutheran international aid organization based in Baltimore.
WR-HC “is working aggressively to raise more funds during this time of great need as well as developing a long-term strategy for future periods of drought,” said the Rev. John A. Fale, interim executive director of the Synod’s mercy arm.
WR-HC is a longtime partner of the ELCK, which used the initial $50,000 grant from WR-HC to provide food for struggling families in northern Kenya (which borders Somalia and Ethiopia), in the hard-hit districts of Marsabit, Samburu and Turkana. Some 3,000 of the most vulnerable households received food supplies intended to last for three months.
In addition to meeting an immediate need for food, ELCK leaders hope the emergency supplies enable families to keep their livestock instead of selling them, helping retain assets crucial to livelihoods when the drought ends.
“It’s an honor for the LCMS to be in this struggle with Archbishop Obare and our Kenyan brothers and sisters,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.
Lutheran partners collaborating
Food shortages are “very serious in the [refugee] camps, and at the same time three-fourths of Kenya is dry,” Obare said.
“There are many places our hand has not reached, and more [people] are calling for help,” he added.
Along with the ELCK, WR-HC is working with LWR “to develop a strategy that will help this area of the world to be resistant to the effects of rain shortage in the future through sustained water systems, food security and agricultural production,” Fale said.
“It is simply not possible for any one agency to be effective if it acts alone,” Fale said. “We are presented with the reality that we must partner with others to maximize our resources. Both the ELCK and LWR have been trusted partners of the LCMS. May Christ have mercy on those who suffer through the delivery of food and water and through His Gospel as Christians bring the Bread of Life to them.”
Nearly 400,000 Somali refugees now live in the Dadaab camps in Kenya that were designed for a capacity of 90,000, according to LWR’s Tim McCully.
“This is a humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in silence over the past several months and is just now making its way onto the radar screen [in the United States] in a significant way,” said McCully, vice president for International Programs with LWR.
“LWR appreciates our longstanding partnership with the LCMS and thanks the faithful members who’ve given so generously to help those in such desperate need in East Africa,” McCully added.
LWR has been working with The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) — a global ministry headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland — since 2008 in the Dadaab camps and is now striving to expand those relief efforts to reach more people. LWF staff work in Dadaab, serving as “a point of reception for people when they cross the border [from Somalia into Kenya] and helping them get set up in transitional camps,” McCully said.
LWR is supporting LWF efforts to provide food, water and shelter to the refugees and also helping supply water to drought-affected Kenyan communities near the camps. With a three-decade history in Kenya, largely focused on agricultural development, LWR also is planning a longer-term response to the drought to help farmers recover and become more resilient to future extended dry spells.
East Africans are suffering through their worst drought in 60 years. The loss of crops and livestock makes food scarce and costly. “The farmers are eating their seeds now instead of planting them,” McCully said.
The famine already has killed more than 29,000 children under the age of 5 in southern Somalia alone, according to United Nations reports, and hundreds of thousands of Somali children are acutely malnourished and at risk of starving to death without a strong aid response.
Militant Islamic rulers blocking humanitarian aid add to famine challenges in southern Somalia, McCully said.
How you can help
While starving children and the famine’s scope may be difficult for people in the United States to fathom, Obare says he hopes fellow Lutherans will help make additional financial support available so the ELCK and Lutheran partners can continue to help ease suffering.
“We need to save lives,” Obare said. “We need prayers so we can be a hand to reach out to these people.”
To make a gift to help WR-HC reach out through LCMS partners to assist people suffering in East Africa:
- Mail checks (noting “Africa Drought Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438.
- Make an online donation (click here).
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster purposes as determined by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Aug. 11, 2011