East Africans have hope in spite of severe food insecurity, and Canadians are ready to help

Imima, a widow and mother of three, initially fled from South Sudan to Uganda in hopes of a better life. However, she found the conditions there unbearable, so she returned to South Sudan in January 2017 and currently lives in an camp for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Yei. She is one of 1.9 million IDPs who have been affected by conflict and famine in South Sudan.

Across East Africa, multiple crises in recent years have left more than 30 million people living in a state of severe food insecurity. At Islamic Relief Canada (IRC), I am responsible for coordinating our activity in this region. Following the situation over the past several years has been a heartbreaking task.

Thankfully, we are able to do more than just observing.

When such an emergency occurs, Canada is generally involved in the humanitarian response. Our team at IRC, too, is ready to answer the call, planning life-saving programs alongside sustainable solutions to enable those affected to help themselves.

As part of the Humanitarian Coalition, comprised of seven prominent Canadian charities, we launched an emergency appeal for the 2017 East Africa famine in conjunction with the Government of Canada matching fund.

The Humanitarian Coalition collectively raised over $8 million, thanks to the generous support of Canadians coming together to provide life-saving assistance to affected communities in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Yemen.

Over the past 18 months, IRC has visited East Africa seven times to meet with the affected communities. In February 2018, I was there myself, and I have seen the real difference that the spirit of working together — with my team, other humanitarian partners, the Government of Canada and, most importantly, with conscientious and empowered Canadians — can make.

In many cases, it literally makes the difference between life and death.

In Somalia, IRC provided over 75,000 people with life-saving food and water. In South Sudan, 52,000 people, primarily women and children, received food, medical services, water, and essential non-food items. Emergency water trucking, as well as the rehabilitation and construction of water sources, was also a major component of the response, reaching more than 42,000 individuals in Ethiopia and 26,000 in Kenya.

Despite international relief efforts, including our own response, there is more work to be done. Many of the affected countries are still facing ongoing food insecurity. Looking ahead, at a time when needs are increasing, IRC has reaffirmed its commitment to bridging life-saving assistance with sustainable solutions to ensure resiliency among those who have been affected.

But we are only the conduit; our supporters across Canada are the ones who really make a difference. We call on all Canadians to join this effort by raising awareness, donating, discussing further action with government officials, and volunteering with NGOs in your area of expertise and interest.

Even a small effort goes a long way, and many are counting on it. Millions of individuals like Imima who, despite everything they have endured, hold on to hope for a better future. I am ready to help sustain their hope until famine is a thing of the past in Africa. Let’s do it together.

Catriona Addleton is part of the Programs team at Islamic Relief Canada.