Political and humanitarian leaders gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to call for action to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster in parts of Africa.
The event was hosted by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Ca., who said the United States needs to get off the sidelines and lead an international effort to help the estimated 20 million people in Africa and Yemen who are threatened with food insecurity.
“This is what I perceive as the beginning of a campaign,” Bass told VOA Somali Service. “This is not just an event where we’re educated and we go off and do other things.”
Bass and others have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut U.S. funding to the United Nations at the same time the organization is playing a lead role in addressing what may be the worst food crisis in 70 years.
Bass has proposed a bill that would increase emergency funding by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by $100 million to deal with food shortages and famine in South Sudan.
“I do believe this is a very bipartisan issue so I completely expect my Republican colleagues to support a relief effort as well,” Bass said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was asked about Trump’s proposal to cut U.N. funding on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday and insisted the United States does not plan to walk away from its historic role as a leader in aid.
“The United States has always been the moral conscience of the world,” Haley said. “We are going to continue to express our values and continue to make sure we show that, not just in our words, but in our actions.”
But Haley also said that the new administration plans to be more careful with funds and exercise more oversight in where its money goes and how it is spent.
“We want to make sure that, when food goes to an area, it’s actually going to the people that need it,” Haley said. “We want to make sure that there is no corruption on the ground. We want to make sure that governments are allowing that to go in.”
Participants at the Tuesday event agreed that a large part of the crisis affecting Africa today is man-made.
John Prendergast, a humanitarian activist and founding director of the Enough Project, said both sides of the conflict in South Sudan have used tactics designed at harming the food supply of their opponents. Worse still, once the crisis became apparent, they denied aid workers the right to operate, he said.
“That combination of specific kinds of military attacks against civilians and then blocking and obstructing humanitarian organizations who were going in to address the humanitarian needs of those people, that is why we have a famine in South Sudan,” Prendergast told VOA.
The United Nations now estimates that 40 percent of South Sudan’s population, 4.9 million people, need food, agricultural or nutritional assistance.
The crisis has impacted people across the continent. In northeast Nigeria, an estimated 800,000 people need immediate food aid, according to the World Food Program.
Kip Ward, the former commander of U.S. Africa Command and current president of SENTEL Corporation, said this is also the result of tactics used by the terror group Boko Haram to sow chaos in society and cut off the population’s access to food.
“It has gone on because of what Boko Haram has done to disrupt the society,” he said. “That famine has been exacerbated as people aren’t able to farm their land. They’re unable to raise their livestock and unable to have access to markets. That has created the condition of famine and food insecurity in northeast Nigeria.”
Ward said the Nigerian government needs assistance to address this crisis.
“The Nigerian government is doing a good job but it does need [the] support of the international community to assist them with the resources, food stuffs, but also the infrastructure requirements so that they can have access to some of these very remote locations,” he said.