Pupils of El-molo bay primary school drink from a tap, in Loiyangalani, northern Kenya, on July 13, 2022. At least 18 million people across the Horn of Africa are facing severe hunger as the worst drought in 40 years devastates the region (Getty Images)
Athletes dream of glory. All that training and dedication for a single moment to shine. This week their chance comes in the Commonwealth Games. Athletes from the 71 nations of the Commonwealth are gathering in the host city of Birmingham for what are known as the Friendly Games.
I’m not an athlete but I have a dream too. My dream is not for medals but for survival. In Kenya, the country of my birth and one of the participating countries in Birmingham, people are facing more than a competition.
Kenya, alongside the rest of East Africa, is suffering the worst drought in 40 years. Fatuma Molu, a widowed mother of eight in northern Kenya, explains: “We all depend on the rain for food. If there is no rain, it means there is no food.”
If this climate-induced crisis wasn’t already desperately acute, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned a tough situation into a dire crisis. Africans have become victims of a war some 5,000 miles away, as rocketing food and fuel prices push hundreds of thousands towards famine.
Millions across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are facing desperate measures to survive in the face of failed harvests, livestock deaths, water shortages and extreme hunger. It is particularly women and girls that are going hungry. The threat of famine and death is very real.
With a third of the world’s population represented at the Commonwealth Games, there are millions of eyes looking to Birmingham. This could be a powerful moment where we come together in aid of the vulnerable people facing a hunger crisis in East Africa.
Like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is unique amongst sporting occasions. Not only is the number of participating countries vast but the games have an ambition to be more than just sport.
Indeed, the Commonwealth Games Federation describes a core pillar of its mission in its Transformation 2022 strategy as helping “athletes, citizens and communities realise their aspirations and ambitions.”
The challenge for athletes at these games, particularly in long-distance running for fellow Kenyans, will no doubt be reaching the podium. For the leaders of the countries they represent the challenge is altogether different. Their challenge is to live up to these shared values.
Unfortunately, for those of us working to get aid to people in need, the values of the games are quickly becoming little more than words scribbled across a bit of paper.
My challenge falls at the feet of the government of the host nation. In 2017, the UK helped to avert the worst of a hunger crisis in East Africa by donating £700m. This year, that figure is ten times less. Given the UN has called for $1.4 billion, how can the UK response be enough? This cannot be what is meant by Global Britain.
UK Ministers must speed up the delivery of funding that has already been promised to alleviate the hunger crisis in East Africa, reverse cuts to aid that undermine resilience to shocks and ensure all funding supports local actors who are best placed to respond quickly. That is what leadership looks like.
Christian Aid is playing its part. Working with local partners, we are bringing hope to more than 300,000 people by repairing wells, investing in water purification kits, and dispersing animal feed and medicine to keep valuable livestock alive. Many are also already helping us to save lives by donating what they can to our newly launched East Africa Hunger Crisis appeal.
However, if the UK Ministers fail to act in that spirit, they will make a mockery of the values of the Commonwealth Games. They will scar the legacy of the Birmingham 2022 games and leave too many vulnerable people in East Africa living in a nightmare.
Karimi Kinoti is based in Kenya and is the Interim Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns Director at Christian Aid