by Peter Stanford
More British aid called for as thousands threatened by African drought
IN THE FACE of the worst drought and famine in Africa in living memory, the bishops of England and Wales have launched a nationwide appeal for the striken continent. It is the first time that they have attempted such an appeal.
The continuing drought has put the lives of 150 million people — one in three of all Africans — at risk through starvation. The World Health Organisation has predicted that five million children will die from malnutrition this year alone, while many more will suffer the long-term effects of under-nutrition.
The bishops' appeal was launched in London on May 21 and, in conjunction with the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, a collection will be taken in every parish. Mgr Vincent Nichols, the General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, speaking at the launch, stressed that the appeal was more than a question of money; it was the recognition of a real and pressing need. "It was something that the bishops really wanted to do", he said.
The drought in Africa is affecting 24 countries from Senegal in the west, across the Sahel region to the Horn of Africa, and then down East Africa through Kenya and Tanzania to Mozambique and Zimbabwe and even South Africa.
The lack of rain has been exacerbated by mistaken economic policies, by civil wars in Ethiopia, Angola and Chad, and by inadequate measures to prevent the advance of the desert in the Saha!
region. Grain production fell by 3.5 million tones between 1981 and 1983 according to the United Nations.
The British Government, in response to the crisis, has made £200,000 available to Cafod in the last six weeks.
Requests are being received Item all parts of Africa. One area already benefiting from a Cafod grant of £20,000 is the Marsabit diocese in Kenya.
The development co-ordinator there, Fr Lionel Gomez, has written to Cafod of the overcrowded hospitals and health centres and of the rising death rate. "We often find people lying in the road who have fainted from a lack of food. In some places people are beyond recognition. One priest told me that he did not recognise some of his parishioners from a remote village they had become so thin".
He went on to warn that "the problem is not just the drought but its long-term effects. After a drought there is nothing left. It destroys society".
Collections for the bishops' appeal takes place this Sunday in the dioceses of Portsmouth, Clifton and Arundel and Brighton, and will continue in other areas until July 15.
In commending the collection in the archdiocese of Cardiff last week, Archbishop John Ward spoke of "our brothers and sisters" who "are dying in a world in which God has provided a generous table". While recognising that there was no simple answer to the world's food problems, he asked for long-term measures to work out a more equitable system of distribution.