As 12 million people suffer through the worsening famine in the horn of Africa, more than 29,000 children have starved to death in the last three months. Relief organizations are stepping up their efforts, but say donations to this cause are only trickling in. Why this lack in response?
Staff at the Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee are working feverishly to map out the next steps for their relief efforts in Africa. The Quaker charitable organization has had a presence in Nairobi and at Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border for several years. Geri Sicola heads the organization’s International Programs section. She says hunger is bringing about 1,500 new refugees to Dadaab refugee camp every day, which already houses over 450,000 people.
Sicola says her organization wants to concentrate efforts on the most vulnerable refugees, orphans, young mothers, and the disabled. However, raising the necessary donations has been a big challenge: “The funds are not flowing in just automatically as they were for the natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake, or the tsunami.”
Sicola says the lack of donations may be related to the nature of the crisis which developed slowly, and has been made worse by military conflicts. Deborah Small researches charitable giving at U Penn’s Wharton School. She says people give when they have a strong emotional response to a need, and not necessarily when the need is the greatest. People also respond better to events. Small gives the example of a homeless person compared with someone who just lost their home.
“In both cases, you have people who don’t have homes, so you think they’d be equally worthy,” said Small. “But people respond much more when somebody loses their home, than when they are in this chronic, constant state of homelessness. It’s just the way our minds are wired, we respond to changes in welfare, not absolute states of welfare.”
Small says the famine has also received less media coverage than other crises, which may be because journalists are are also more prone to be moved by events, rather than slowly developing crises.
Representatives from Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations, say they have raised $18 million toward a goal of $90 million in donations.