Appeal of CCCB's president to Canadian Catholics to help people of the Horn of Africa threatened with famine

Sunday, June 11 2000

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Catholics in the Horn of Africa recently appealed to Canada’s Catholic Church to offer whatever assistance it can to alleviate the suffering caused by famine and war in that part of the world.

Between 16 and 20 million people are now threatened with famine. Ethiopia is expected to bear the brunt of the problem; as many as 8 million people there could be affected. Some regions have not had rain for three years. Two million people are also threatened in Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, as well as 6 million in Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Another 2.5 million refugees in these countries need assistance for their most basic needs.

The victims are mostly women and children. Often, when a drought begins, the men travel to urban areas in search of work and leave the women and children behind. When the women finally run out of food or water, they are forced to walk kilometres in search of humanitarian aid. Many families have sold whatever livestock they have left and have been reduced to eating the seeds that should be used for the next harvest. Many children, in particular, are beginning to die from illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.

The Horn of Africa is among the poorest regions in the world, yet the countries there are also burdened with external debt. The government of Ethiopia for example, faces an external debt of more than $10 billion, equivalent to 131% of its GNP. Ethiopia spends twice as much on servicing its debt as on primary education.

Although drought is the main reason for the food shortages, armed conflicts have also worsened the situation. The renewed fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea has forced 58,000 Eritreans to seek refuge in Sudan, and it is estimated that there are 750,000 homeless in Eritrea. The vast majority of these refugees are women, children and the elderly; many remain without shelter, water, food, sanitation facilities or health care. The 15-year-old civil war in Sudan has, in turn, created 375,000 Sudanese refugees, and there are now approximately 4 million homeless in Sudan.

The Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea are urging western nations to exert pressure for a true peace and reconciliation process to begin. The Bishops of Sudan are also seeking to promote the peace process between the different tribes in the South of Sudan, and between the Northern and the Southern regions in Sudan.

My appeal to you is based on requests for aid sent to us by the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as the Ethiopian Orthodox and Evangelical Churches (Mekane Yesus) and Caritas Internationalis, the international Catholic relief agency.

I, along with several of my brother bishops in each of Canada’s regions, issued a public appeal today through the media, asking Canadian Catholics to respond generously to the urgent cry for help from our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. I was supported in that appeal by Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, Archbishop of Halifax (Atlantic Canada); His Eminence Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal; Most Rev. Maurice Couture, Archbishop of Québec; Most Rev. Jacques Berthelet, Bishop of Saint-Jean- Longueuil and Vice-President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (Québec); Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, Archbishop of Ottawa (Ontario); Most Rev. James Weisgerber, newly-appointed Archbishop of Winnipeg (Western Canada).

The emergency relief effort is being co-ordinated by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. CCODP has already sent more than $150,000 to the Horn of Africa in recent months from its regular emergency fund. To date, Canadian Catholics have donated an additional $78,000 to help people in the region. Much more needs to be done, however.

I hope that you will respond with open hearts, both financially, and by lobbying the Canadian government to do whatever it can to facilitate the peace process among the warring factions in the Horn of Africa.

I remind you that Development and Peace will accept cash donations, but cannot accept clothes, food or medicine. If you require any additional information about how you can help with this appeal — either now or in the coming months — please contact Development and Peace (1-888-664-DEVP).

Most Rev. Gerald Wiesner, OMI
Bishop of Prince George
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops