The international response to the East African crisis is far short of urgent needs, yet the extreme deprivation being reported is only the tip of the iceberg.
The unfolding crisis in the Horn of Africa is yet another tragedy that reflects the dysfunction and injustice inherent in the structures of the world economy. Although the factors that are currently causing widespread hunger and deprivation across a large part of the region include the worst drought for 60 years, escalating food prices and continued regional conflict, the problem is largely man-made and entirely preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need.
A deadly lack of ambition
The politically sensitive principles of equity and distributive justice that featured in the original Millennium Declaration have gradually faded from the official development discourse, accompanied by a deadly lack of ambition. Even if the MDG goal on halving rates of poverty is met, a staggering 882 million people will still be living in absolute poverty in 2015. In effect, the MDG's focus on merely reducing over time the number of people living below the threshold of human survival tacitly accepts the continuance of poverty-related deaths each day. Similarly, goals four and five commit to reduce maternal mortality by only three quarters by 2015, and under-five child mortality by two-thirds, which accepts not only a high number of preventable maternal and child deaths remaining at the end of the MDG period, but also many millions of such needless deaths in the interim.
In an interdependent and globalised world, there can be no meaningful process of development whilst so many people living in poverty die prematurely and unnecessarily. The impact on families, communities and economies are devastating, and preventing these deaths is an urgent moral necessity. Even in the crudest economic calculations, putting an end to avoidable deaths would amount to a significant investment in human capital, as healthy individuals whose basic needs are secured are far more likely to contribute to the growth of communities and nations. It is objectionable from any social, moral or economic viewpoint that sufficient resources are not immediately made available to address the crises of extreme deprivation, especially in its most acute manifestation well before the situation degenerates into a full-blown famine.
International efforts to address the life-threatening poverty of millions of people in the poorest countries must aim far higher and provide much more than the current insufficient, voluntary and often conditional donations of overseas aid and disaster assistance. A massively upscaled redistribution of resources from North to South is essential to avert humanitarian disasters and prevent extreme deprivation and poverty-related deaths. Given the scale of these related crises, an international program of emergency relief must become the highest priority of world governments, followed by assistance for developing countries to secure ongoing state-provided welfare and essential services for all their citizens. Efforts to improve the redistribution of wealth nationally through the development of local industries, better taxation and the provision of comprehensive social protection for all people should become the new focus of international development policy.
Central to this transformation of development is the principle of sharing, which embodies universally accepted ethical values that reflect our common humanity. Aligning the international policy discourse more closely to our shared moral obligations can help redeem decades of unjust economic and social policy, prevent future famines and help manifest an inclusive vision of progress and development. In the simplest economic terms, sharing points to the need for a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and a shift in power relations from financial and commercial interests to the world's majority population. The East African crisis presents another opportunity for civil society to demand that wealth and resources are shared more equitably across the world, and that policy-makers prioritise the complete eradication of poverty above all other concerns.