East Africa (MNN) — The East Africa famine has already cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. Numbers range from 12 to 13 million who have been "affected" by the disaster.
But the consequences of such a wide-scale crisis go much deeper than just starvation or even death. While it is easy to believe that things will settle down once the food situation gets back to normal, Pat Melancon with Baptist Global Response says the damage done by this catastrophe will far outlast today's hunger.
"The side effects are just astronomical, and they don't go away once people have food in their stomachs," Melancon, Managing Director of Disaster Response and Training for BGR, tells Mission Network News. "Some of the long-term side effects can be devastating, I think, to a community for probably a decade or more."
The list of "side effects" is miles long. Entire nations will be rearranged by the end of the crisis.
For one thing, notes Melancon, there has been a massive migration of people within the affected nations. People have left their homes to find food, but even those in "food secure" areas are moving to areas with no food security when they hear that organizations are handing out meals elsewhere.
When people choose to migrate, their land is often seized by others. This, says Melancon, results in a loss of livelihood. People who, up until the crisis, had been pastoral herders or agriculturists suddenly have no land with which to continue their work. On top of that, there has been a significant loss of livestock in drought-affected areas, robbing pastoralists, in particular, of their livelihood.
Those losses encompass entire families, who also will have to struggle with the loss of family members, and, indeed, entire generations.
"Even if you could go back to a perfect situation, where they're back in their home environment, they still have their land and still have their livelihood," notes Melancon, "in many cases, they've lost two generations of people: the older generation who were there to teach the younger generation how to live off the land; and the younger generation who should be coming up to learn from those in that middle age group, and who have actually lived through it."
Many children who have survived have lost their opportunity for education–a way to a better life. Melancon reports as high as 80% drop out rates in available education venues since the famine struck.
Children, in particular, are at an even higher risk now of inhumane treatment. "People begin to resort to things that are going to enable them to survive," Melancon explains. "So you'll have an increase in the amount of prostitution. You'll have an increase in the amount of trafficking of children. You'll have an increase in the number of child soldiers. When you have children who are starving and you offer them food if they're willing to join your ranks, then it increases the number of children that are available."
Add to that the economic troubles that nations are sure to face as a result of migrations and a responsibility to aid relief. Without Christ, the situation is utterly hopeless.
BGR knows the Truth, though, and is working tirelessly to share it with those suffering in these nations. Currently, BGR is focusing on addressing the immediate need of hunger, but the ministry has been developing self-sustaining programs in that part of the world for 40 years. In the days, months, and years to come, BGR will work to create more of these programs, while spreading the message of Christ–the only One who can truly redeem such a tragic situation.
Melancon encourages you to do the same. "The way that Christians can get involved is, of course, to look at what the needs truly are, and then try either to contribute to or participate in projects that will address the needs that are there right now–but in such a way that it will allow the people to be self-sustained."
In the meantime, pray. Pray for access–which can be difficult in a complex crisis and in nations that have warring factions–for BGR. Pray for safety for distribution workers, who face more danger from desperate people than do even UN peace keepers. And most importantly, pray that Christian workers can effectively share Christ's love in word and deed with people who need that message of hope now more than ever.
If you would like to give to this crisis through BGR, visit www.baptistglobalresponse.com.