Independent UN Expert: How to Boost Donor Response to East African Crisis

Refugees queue on the outskirts of Ifo camp in Kenya. Photo by: B. Bannon / UNHCR

The United Nations should accept responsibility for the famine in East Africa, an independent expert within the global body has suggested, explaining that such a move could prompt donors to boost their response to the crisis in the region.

Jose Antonio Bengoa, a member of the advisory committee of the U.N. Human Rights Council, has urged the council to issue a declaration about the current situation in East Africa, highlighting the plight of refugees and drought victims in need of urgent food aid in an attempt to secure more donor pledges, particularly for the World Food Program.

Bengoa did acknowledge the complexity of the current international fiscal situation, when most donor countries are facing domestic financial concerns.

“Obviously, the purse strings are tightly tied and will not be loosened soon. Feeding starving children in the emergency camps in Africa is not going to improve the crises in the U.S. or Europe,” Bengoa said, according to IPS News. But “it is very important for the advisory committee to make a statement, and for the Council to see what is really happening in the camps filled with starving refugees, where people are under the U.N.’s responsibility.”

A number of aid organizations and expert groups have criticized some Western donors for not pledging enough money for the international response to the East African crisis.

Germany, which is among donors that have been criticized for its contributions, has defended its response, arguing that it is not always the amount of pledges that matter.

“Anyone can toss around big numbers,” German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel said in an interview with German newspaper Spiegel. “The important thing is that the money we pledge can also be put to use, and that it reaches the people. In that sense, we can consider ourselves to come out quite well in international comparisons. Besides, you can really throw as much money as you want at the underlying structural problem.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, administration officials and members of the aid community are urging legislators not to cut the country’s foreign aid budget, particularly for food aid, in light of the worsening crisis in East Africa.

The U.S. is currently the top donor to the international crisis response in East Africa. Foreign aid, however, is among the budgets on the chopping block of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.