The world’s fastest growing refugee crisis is now in South Sudan. The United Nations Refugee agency announced on March 17th, 2017 the alarming number of civilians fleeing their homes; some 1.6 million people have fled or been displaced to neighbouring countries in the last 8 months following another wave of violence in the region. The violence is part of an ongoing pattern in many African states – few of which receive attention in mainstream western media.
Babar Baloch, spokesperson for the Office of the UN high Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reported that “the rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running out of resources to cope”. For once, this refugee crisis is not a result of terror or war, though violence plays a part in the problem, it is a problem that the world can solve more easily: famine brought about by drought. The Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, announced a support package on Friday: “This package of €165 million will support the urgent needs of South Sudanese people in the country and the region but also the millions of people at risk of famine in the Horn of Africa. With this additional support, the EU shows the way to other members of the international community to also respond urgently.” €100 million will be spent in South Sudan to directly address the humanitarian crisis caused by violent conflict. The international response to this crisis is heart-warming, and optimistic for a western world that, at times, happily ignores the less fortunate. Unfortunately, monetary aid is just that: a temporary Band-Aid. It will not prevent the refugee crisis; it will not bring peace; and it will not stop similar situations in the future – research suggest that the 2017 rainy season will produce below average rainfall.
A portion of this aid will be used to treat alarming levels of malnutrition in Northeast Africa where famine and violence hint at times to come. It is well known that in the absence of programs that allocate resources fairly, violence erupts when resources are scarce. To maintain peace, we need to address the root of the problem – food and the weather. While control over rainfall is unrealistic, we can start accounting for the real effects of climate change around the world. Western leaders today are still denying climate change and most western individuals (undeniably a major source of pollutants) are unwillingly to give up luxuries they feel entitled to. It is embarrassing that we do not consider the realities of climate change simply because adverse effects have not yet hit our doorstep. Until we do, conflicts and violence as a result of climate will never abate. Band-Aids will not fix the problem, they only cover them up just long enough to forget.
Sudan’s situation is a reflection of a larger concern: the fact that famine-borne violence can easily be mitigated. There is more than enough food in the world to feed every country. Unfortunately, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted or lost every year. For example, Australians throw away 20% of the food they buy. If we shifted our perspective, and focused instead on people and humanitarian ideals rather than profit and greed, we could feed the world and prevent these conflicts. War and violence is about power and control – often over resources. What prevents us from sharing them?