"The drought has gotten so bad that we have seen camels dying of thirst," recounted a Mercy Corps colleague during my recent visit to Somalia. While crises in Sudan, Libya and Japan may get the headlines, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today -- by a long shot -- is taking place in the Horn of Africa. Experts in the region say that the drought is the worst the Horn has seen since the 1950s. The U.N. estimates that more than 10 million people face severe food shortfalls. Spanning across Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, the current crisis could prove to be worse than the far better-known crisis in Ethiopia in the 1980s, which ultimately killed up to 1 million people.
The epicenter of the crisis is Somalia, where nearly 3 million people -- more than one-third of the population -- face possible starvation. Mercy Corps staff in the country, people with years of experience in humanitarian relief, have told me that this is one of the worst situations they have ever seen.
Yet as Somalia has descended closer to outright famine, the U.S. government has largely stayed on the sidelines, contributing only $14.5 million -- a tiny fraction of the need -- for food aid this year. The U.S. is the largest global donor to international hunger relief, so when the U.S. fails to show up, there is no one else who can be relied on pick up the slack.