Church Aid in Eastern African Famine

Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 12 August 2011

“Our impression of the Saints here is how their faith and belief is so strong—to deal with the adversities of being so isolated [and] having the bare minimum of support.”—Dick and Janet Tuttle, humanitarian missionaries in Kenya

With more than 11.5 million people in Eastern Africa in urgent need of assistance, and conditions being the driest recorded in the past 50 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working with various other organizations to offer relief.

During the past two years, the Horn of Africa has experienced two consecutive drought seasons, resulting in extreme food shortages in the area. The United Nations reports more than 11.5 million people are severely affected in drought-stricken areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda.

More than two million children are in great need of food, and the number of people in need is expected to rise sharply as drought conditions continue for the foreseeable future. UN officials say there is no likelihood of improvement until next year.

All missionaries and members in the affected countries are safe, and area leaders, local priesthood holders, and humanitarian workers are working with trusted partners to coordinate the distribution of aid in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Cause and Effect

Nate Leishman, an emergency response manager with Church Humanitarian Services, cited statistics that show the Horn of Africa has experienced two years of lower-than-average rainfall.

“People are literally fleeing their areas because they can’t find food there,” he said.

Most people are leaving Somalia, where drought conditions are the worst and are compounded by civil unrest. Safety issues remain major challenges for relief workers.

The world’s largest complex of refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, is already full, with an estimated 383,000 people living there. About 70,000 people are living outside of the complex due to lack of space and supplies, with 1,300 arriving each day.

In Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado, another complex of refugee camps, between 1,000 and 1,500 refugees from Somalia arrive each day. January of this year saw one camp filled over capacity with 38,000 people. Three camps now hold approximately 120,000.

By the end of the year, Dana and Robin O’Crowley, humanitarian country directors for the Church in Ethiopia, estimated Dollo Ado will be home to 200,000 refugees in five camps.

Within the city-like camps, refugees have access to water, food, and nutrition supplements, but those arriving after days and sometimes weeks of travel find that it can take more than a month to get registered to enter the camp.

“People with just four or five days worth of food are arriving at the camps and are having to wait sometimes three weeks to get registered,” Sister O’Crowley said.

In Kenya, Church humanitarian missionaries Dick and Janet Tuttle commented on the obstacles they deal with daily as they try to offer aid and increase self-reliance.

Any aid to the camps must be coordinated with one of the agencies that manage the camp, such as United Nations, UNICEF, or the World Food Program. Additionally, the Church seeks to make sure that every bit of sacred funds dedicated to relief projects is used to provide necessary aid for those in need.

Church Relief Efforts

Thabo Lebethoa is the Africa Southeast Area welfare manager for the Church. From Johannesburg, South Africa, he works with other Church employees and leaders, as well as local non-governmental organizations, to assess the situation in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

As part of their emergency response efforts, the Church is working on a humanitarian aid package.

Brother Leishman confirmed that the Church will coordinate with other organizations to purchase food locally in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somlia and then will ship the food to the areas most in need. He estimated that 70 percent of aid will be food, with the remaining 30 percent comprising medicine, sanitation supplies, and shelter.

The Church is coordinating with several groups to reach as many people as possible, Brother Leishman said.

In addition to the relief aid the Church is sending to these countries, ongoing humanitarian projects to improve quality of living and increase self-reliance continue. Plans are in the works to provide assistance in welfare initiatives, including clean water, vision care, dental care, and wheelchairs.

In Ethiopia, for example, the O’Crowleys’ focus right now is on water projects—drilling wells, installing pumps, and sanitizing water sources. So far this year they have completed six well projects that serve 350,000 people, helped to provide wheelchairs to 250 people, and trained 1,800 people in neonatal resuscitation.

The best way for members to help, Brother Lebethoa said, is by contributing to the Church’s humanitarian fund.

Hope During Hard Times

“The gospel is very important, as it can help raise the consciousness … with regards to our responsibility as a people to seek out the poor and needy amongst us and to help meet their needs,” Brother Lebethoa said.

“Our impression of the Saints here is how their faith and belief is so strong—to deal with the adversities of being so isolated [and] having the bare minimum of support—and yet it’s the center of their lives; they are trying to be so obedient and righteous,” they wrote on their blog in March.

In Kenya and in Ethiopia, humanitarian volunteers from the Church are helping Church members and nonmembers alike learn to be self-sufficient and to work to improve their quality of life.

“Teaching people how to help themselves—that’s our key focus,” Elder Tuttle said.