Photo: Famine in Africa and Canada's responsibility

We have a responsibility to respond to the crisis in Somalia and the Horn of Africa (Credit: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies).

By Morag Carter, Program Director, Climate Change and Clean Energy

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Ten million people are facing famine. It's the first time the UN has declared a famine since 1984 when approximately eight million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea faced starvation. That famine, brought on by drought and exacerbated by internal conflict, caused at least 200,000 people to die from starvation.

There has been some speculation about the causes of this famine. Local conflict, displacement, migration and drought have all played a role. But recently, Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, has also pointed the finger at climate change and the impact global warming is having on the number of extreme weather events around the world. We must, he said "realize that climate change plays an increasingly important factor in determining weather variability."

Over the past year, millions of people on many continents have been displaced as a result of extreme weather. In the past 12 months, Australia and the U.S. have been devastated by flooding, hurricanes and cyclones. In Pakistan, last year's monsoon rains were so devastating that almost 2,000 people have died and, according to the Pakistani government, nearly 18 million people were displaced or impacted. Recent estimates are that 800,000 people are still without permanent housing. This year's monsoon will arrive soon.

Is it surprising, then, that in a corner of the world where the ecosystem is already fragile, and where multiple stressors are already taking their toll on a weak and vulnerable population, we see the devastating impacts of drought and food insecurity and scarcity?

We have a responsibility to respond to this crisis in three ways. First, we should contribute what we can to the immediate relief effort. Then we need to work with every level of government to reduce our own carbon footprint. We still have a choice between whether to experience a little climate change or a lot. The difference will be huge — and it will largely be felt by the world's poor. Finally, we need to ensure that our federal government invests in adaptation and disaster-preparedness programs in vulnerable countries to build resiliency and guard against future disasters. Because of our current and historically high emissions, we have overwhelmingly contributed to these impacts and we have a responsibility to assist those who are suffering from them.

As it has in the past, Canada's government has pledged to match donations collected by relief agencies. Donations received between July 6 and September 16 will be matched.

Many organizations and agencies are accepting donations, and we've listed some of them here. Please check carefully to ensure that your donations are going to an organization that is able to distribute food and relief where it is most needed.

The Humanitarian Coalition is a network of five of Canada's relief agencies, Care Canada, Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam Canada, Save the Children and Plan Canada. UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the Canadian Red Cross are also accepting donations.

August 4, 2011

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Aug 12, 2011
5:07 AM

si le monde entier ne réagi pas plus 11 millions de Somaliens vont mourir je ne souhaite pas mais si ça arrivait tout le monde entier en sera responsable . donner la vie à son prochain est la l’aide la plus utile et sollitée pitie à la Somalie ceux qui capable agissez le plus rapidement possible mon bonjour à tous voila moi ma contribution puisque c’est le seul moyen que je dispose pour venir en aide à la Somali

Aug 11, 2011
12:44 AM

It was just a matter of time before an eco-advocacy group sank to a new low claiming that the famine in the most famine struck place on earth is now YOUR fault.

After all, you emit C02 so you are part of the problem. It’s just a relative meaure. Why stop at blaming the SUV? Anyone who drives, even an electric car, emits tones of C02 in the design, building and running of that car. Just breathing is causing untold death is conflict stricken desert countries. You animals!!!

David, shame on you.

As someone working in Africa, I can assure you this famine is about corrupted governance, lack of resources, underdevelopment, war and cyclical, historical droughts.

How is this now a C02 drought? Weren’t the 1970’s drought worse, when global emissions were half? And the 1980’s? Ya, forget history, we make it up as we go.

The sooner people understand the difference between ideology advocacy and science, the better the world will respond to challenges. If it wasn’t for the billions funneled into countless hopelessly flawed eco-policy, we might have had the resources to respond better to this Somalian crisis.

But why bother? David Suzuki believes humans are roaches are the problem. So logically, not responding is actually the new morality thanks to David and friends.

Well done…

Aug 10, 2011
4:47 PM

Hi Jocelyn,

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog post, and for your comments.

This post highlights the fact that climate change is a collective problem, that is, its effects and devastating impacts are felt all over the world. As such, our efforts as individuals, and here in Canada through legislation put forward by our federal and provincial governments, add up to change that can reduce the problem not only here, but everywhere!

Not only are governments at all levels a key agent for change and launching initiatives, they are, most importantly, the officials we elect, as citizens, to represent our views for us. So, it is necessary that we voice our opinions concerning issues that we consider to be important. I encourage you to make your voice heard! Have a close look at the parties’ and representatives’ platforms to help you make an informed decision on which candidate to elect to represent your opinions and interests. Write to or contact your current local, provincial and federal representatives and urge them to adopt environmental initiatives and support greener policies and programs. We must ensure that all political parties take the protection of our environment, health and resources seriously and support finding solutions to the current problems and issues that concern us.

There are also important steps that you can take as an individual to help contribute to the solution. Have a look at our take action toolkits to see how you can spread awareness among your friends, neighbors and community in regards to important environmental issues: . Our website also has a wealth of resources on how you can reduce your carbon footprint: .

To build a better, more sustainable future, it is important that we all act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature. It is within our power to initiate action and be a part of the solution! We can make the change start here, at home!

Aug 08, 2011
1:18 PM

Thank you for highlighting the link between terrible events such as the famine in Africa and climate change. We do not seem to ever hear it in the news… And, although I completely agree with what you have identified as our “responsibility to respond to this crisis”, I would add that every level of our government also has a responsibility to begin preparing Canada for climate change. I live in PEI and we are already feeling the effects of climate change. Certain communities have begun identifying their “weaknesses” (such as land erosion, salt water intrusion, etc.). However, there are no funds, either provincial or federal, to do anything about it. Even worse, as I’m sure you know, the federal government is cutting funding for climate change research. Yes, we have a responsibility to the poor of the world because we have greatly contributed to the problem. But we also need to take care of ourselves.

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