Unprecedented drought in East Africa receives few donations

by Katy Snyder, JVA Consulting

Although disturbing images of starving children and adults in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti have appeared on the front pages of multiple news publications, and the UN has labeled it the drought the worst of its kind in 60 years, nonprofits are receiving only a trickle of donations, according to a New York Times article. Undoubtedly, the worst off of these countries is Somalia, where the militant group, Al-Shabab, controls much of the southern part of the country affected by the drought, and has barred Western aid from the area, leading it to be the only area that the UN has classified as having “famine” conditions, according to the Times. Now it is being widely reported that Al-Shabab is not only blocking Western aid, but also blocking Somali civilians from leaving drought-stricken areas to seek help in neighboring countries that have received more aid, forcing many into Al-Shabab-run camps that have hardly any food.

The seeming futility of the situation may be one of the reasons that this disaster has received far fewer and smaller donations than other recent disasters. The Times also cites competing news stories—the killings in Norway and debt ceiling votes in the U.S., among others—and the relatively slow onset of the famine as factors in the low donation levels. Also at work is the sheer enormity of the problem—according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), over half, or 3.7 million people, of Somalia’s population needs aid. Aid organizations have also been concerned that if Al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda and is on the official State Department terror list, co-ops aid meant for civilians,  they will be implicated for providing support to a terror organization. In order to alleviate this fear, the Obama administration announced today that charities must only pledge that they will use their best efforts to combat attempts by Al-Shabab to hoard aid or collect taxes on supplies.

Further complicating things for donors is the fact that there is an overwhelming number of organizations collecting funds. To help sort through the crush of organizations providing services, I have compiled some of the most reputable and easy to use sites to make a donation on (I just made one to the IRC, and it took a mere 30 seconds):

The IRC is known for its efficiency and accountable practices: The Forbes Investment Guide named 
the IRC one of 10 Gold Star Charities, The American Institute of Philanthropy
gave the IRC an A+, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance has stated that the IRC meets all 20 of its standards.

United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. It has online and text giving options, and also offers other ways to help without donating money, such as taking a quiz on the famine. For every person who takes the quiz, an anonymous donor has pledged to donate a free meal to a child in need.

OxFam America is a 40-year-old organization that relies solely on private funding. If you make a donation to Oxfam before midnight tonight, a group of donors will match up to $2 million dollars in donations, doubling your gift. Oxfam also offers other ways to help, such as an upcoming benefit concert in Denver on August 6.

There are also things that can be done to prevent the types of circumstances that lead to famines in the first place. Click here to read the IRC’s list of ways you can get involved to prevent famine and streamline the process of getting donations to famine-stricken countries in the future.

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