New push for famine package as polls shows public support

PRESS CONFERENCE AND REPORT LAUNCH: 9.30am Mural Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

As a new poll shows overwhelming support for Australia’s aid effort, Australian politicians will today hear the case for a $110 million famine relief package from people who have direct experience of the growing crisis in Africa.

The YouGov poll of 1055 Australia voters for the Help Fight Famine campaign finds that despite the domestic cost of living crisis, a growing majority of Australian voters (60 per cent) support the Australian government funding overseas aid to developing countries. Support has increased from 52 per cent in 2019 and 57 per cent in 2021.

The poll also showed overwhelming support for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. A total of 65 percent of those polled believe Australia should provide famine relief funding to the region. Of that number, 27 percent believe the amount should be $5.70 per person, or $150 million, 38 per cent thought Australia should pledge approximately $1.50 per Australian or $40 million. Sixteen percent of respondents felt Australia should not pledge any amount.

The Help Fight Famine campaign, a collaborative effort bringing together a number of foreign aid organistations, is also today releasing a new budget paper. The urgent case to save lives at a time of polycrisis, to be launched at parliament today, recommends a further $110 million in a Famine Prevention Package to stop a catastrophe in the worst-affected hunger hotspots in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria.

It also recommends raising the annual allocation of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund to $300 million and investing $200 million annually in a Global Food Security Strategy to fight the root causes of hunger. It also calls for a commitment to raise the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI and for this target to be locked in legislation, as a matter of urgency.

The paper notes that in the Horn of Africa around 20.2 million children face severe hunger, thirst and disease, compared to 10 million in July. 1 One person is dying every 48 seconds in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Congolese-Australian aid worker Lulu Mitshabu, will launch the paper.

“When children starve to death it is an unspeakable tragedy,” said Ms Mitshabu.

“But we often overlook the broader effects, such as the surge in child marriages or the millions of children missing school. Australians are good and decent people and when things are tough they chip in. We all thank Australia for its generosity and urge the Government to give what it can to save lives.”

The hunger crisis is particularly acute in Somalia, where it’s reported that up to 100,000 people have been facing ‘catastrophic hunger’ (source: OCHA).

Faysel Ahmed Selat, President of the Somali Community Association of Queensland, who is also appearing at the launch, said that the devastating impacts of the crisis in Somalia are being felt by Somali community members in Australia.

“The Somali community in Australia is deeply distressed and financially affected by what’s happening with their loved ones back home,” said Mr Selat.

“Many are going without and sending money to family members who would otherwise have nothing. When you see your loved ones suffering from hunger, you try to support them at any cost.”

Help Fight Famine spokesperson and Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain, said Australia should invest to deal with both the immediate crisis but also have a longer-term strategy.

“In the Horn of Africa, children are starving to death in increased numbers, and across the world more people than ever go to bed hungry and wake up unsure how they’ll sustain themselves or their family. The world is getting hotter, conflicts are erupting, new and unknown diseases are emerging. But food is essential. And through science, co-operation and investment no-one needs to go hungry.”

Australia’s humanitarian funding decreased 34 percent between 2010 and 2022, while the UK, Japan, US and New Zealand increased their funding between 167% and 346%.

1 UNICEF, ‘More than twenty million children suffering in the Horn of Africa as drought intensifies – UNICEF – 22 December 2022, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/more-twenty-million-children-suffering-horn-africa-drought-intensifies-unicef