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MCC expands response for East Africa drought

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With aid dollars that have flooded in from Canadians, Mennonite relief agencies are strategically distributing food and resources through their networks of partners in East Africa, where some 12 million people are affected by a food crisis. Two consecutive poor rainy seasons caused the worst drought in decades, with crop failure and livestock death exacerbated by conflict and high food prices.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has raised more than $3 million for the East Africa drought and is expanding its response to the continuing crisis in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

“The needs are great and the crisis will not abate for a long time,” said Willie Reimer who directs MCC’s food and disaster program. “We are providing much-needed emergency food assistance and longer-term support to help communities adapt to drought, high food prices, climate change, and other causes of hunger.”

At press time, MCC had allocated $1.2 million in MCC funds for this disaster response. The total jumps to $5 million when MCC’s response through Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) is included.

One of the most drought-affected countries is Somalia, where ongoing conflict and the absence of a stable government have made it difficult to get humanitarian aid to the people. Thousands are fleeing their homes and livelihoods in order to survive.

In Dhobley, a Somali town on the Kenyan border, through a joint effort by World Concern, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, CFGB, and MCC, aid is distributed through the use of commodity-based vouchers. Under this system, families use vouchers to buy food from local merchants or traders who are paid through an electronic banking system.

Traders and merchants have experience in distributing food in difficult circumstances, explained Reimer. This voucher system is considered an effective approach for food distribution in countries where it is difficult to get food and other humanitarian aid to vulnerable people.

In collaboration with CFGB – which projects to benefit 250,000 people in the horn of Africa with aid – MCC is supporting food-for-work projects in Kenya that provide thousands of Kenyan households with cooking oil, maize, and beans for participating in the construction of 92 sand dams and 25 wells.

In southeastern Ethiopia, MCC committed an initial $200,000 to support emergency relief efforts in two districts of the Oromya region for up to six months. This project is being developed and coordinated in partnership with the relief and development association (RDA) of the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia, an Anabaptist denomination and member of Mennonite World Conference.

Meanwhile, MCC is also part of Canadian Churches in Action, which has applied for funds from the Canadian government’s East Africa Drought Relief Fund for a $3.9-million response for nonfood items in Kenya.

For every dollar Canadians contributed from July 6–Sept. 16 to registered Canadian charities responding to the East Africa drought, the federal government set aside one dollar for the fund. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) allocated these funds to established Canadian and international humanitarian organizations to ensure an effective and timely response.

In response to news reports that some aid had been stolen, CFGB director of resources and public engagement John Longhurst said, “Very little aid actually gets stolen…. What’s more amazing is how much actually goes right, considering the incredibly difficult circumstances facing aid groups during emergencies like the one in eastern Africa.”

—Karla Braun, from reports

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