Two regions in the world are experiencing severe drought, and yet the outcomes in terms of human suffering are dramatically different. Do you know where these droughts are taking place? And can you tell what distinguishes one from the other?
Drought 1: It began in the fall of 2010, yet it persists one year later. Forecasters say there is a 50-percent chance that weather patterns will not change for the next 12 months. In the last century, this region of the world has experienced its driest 12 months ever recorded. Extreme and exceptional drought covers more than 90 percent of the land. Combined with record-high temperatures, the drought is having an unprecedented impact on the region’s economy and the livelihood of its residents. Economists estimate that $5 billion has been lost as crops and cattle are lost to the hot and arid conditions. To top it off, wildfires have destroyed another 3 million acres of land.
Drought 2: Another drought elsewhere in the world looks similar. For roughly two years, rainfall has been minimal. The rains that typically provide water for crops were just 30 percent of the average rainfall in recent years. Cattle and crop losses are roughly $300 million and have been devastating for the region’s families. Recognizing the conditions, farmers shifted away from their traditional cash crops and toward less profitable but quick-maturing food. But many are still unable to provide an income or even food for themselves or their families.
Both droughts are linked to variations in ocean temperature caused by La Niña. Both regions are agricultural, raising cattle and a variety of crops. Both groups of people have made rational choices in response to weather conditions completely out of their control.
Maybe you have an idea where at least one of these droughts is taking place.
In one region -- Texas and other states in the U.S. South -- no one is starving. The federal government has paid out nearly $700 million in disaster relief to farmers. The Department of Agriculture has provided more than $100 million to livestock producers. Tens of millions of dollars have been made available for loans to farmers and for conservation efforts. Over the last two years, the government has paid out more than $2.6 billion in disaster assistance.
All this assistance from the government is not enough to fully alleviate the financial losses from the drought in the South. Prices of food will probably rise for U.S. consumers as fewer crops and livestock make it to market. More importantly, family farms will go out of business, changing the agricultural landscape in the region for decades to come. The assistance provided to these farmers and ranchers is much-needed and greatly deserved. I thank God that I live in a country that is prepared and capable of responding to disasters like this. Some things may be broken with our government, but compared to others, it does of fine job of caring for its citizens.
Yet the 12 million people in Somalia and surrounding countries, who -- through no fault of their own -- are suffering from the same causes, have a much more devastating outcome. Because of a lack of basic government services -- such as protection from a rebel terrorist group -- aid to the area has been hampered. The East Africans suffering from catastrophic famine deserve a response equal to what our government is providing farmers and ranchers in the U.S. South. Yet thousands of people every day are fleeing the areas where the famine has hit hardest, traveling for days without food and water, in order to seek assistance at overcrowded and minimally supplied refugee camps.
When disaster strikes here in the United States, whether in the form of a hurricane or tornado, an earthquake or a drought, we are wealthy enough and have the government capacity and private institutions to provide quick relief and then help people rebuild.
The Somalis fleeing famine are not so fortunate. Instead, they are forced to rely on the efforts of the international community. It may be a long time before the Somali people enjoy a government that can adequately care for its citizens. In the meantime, I believe we have the same moral responsibility before God to care for our neighbors in Somalia as we do for our neighbors in Texas.
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World Vision partners with USAID and the Ad Council on the FWD campaign to bring attention to the drought in the Horn of Africa.
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