Note: This article has been updated to reflect Coca-Cola’s donation announcement on Aug. 12.
Liz McLaughlin‘s 19-year career in humanitarian work has taken her to places where clashes and want have brought on dire crises.
She visited Kosovo and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, during their violent conflicts and spent four years in Sudan before moving to Atlanta.
But after visiting eastern Africa in July, the director of Atlanta-based CARE‘s foundation programs is confident that the famine that has struck the region in recent months is the most intense suffering she’s ever witnessed.
“I didn’t think that I was going to see too many surprises. I was shocked when I visited the Horn of Africa,” Ms. McClaughlin told attendees at an Aug. 11 briefing for donors and partners at the nonprofit’s downtown headquarters.
The worst drought in 60 years, rising global food prices and constant fighting between Islamist groups and the transitional government in Somalia have created a “perfect storm” for regional scarcity, said Bob Laprade, CARE’s senior director for emergency and humanitarian assistance.
Aid groups started seeing signs of a food shortage more than eight months ago, but they weren’t sure whether it would reach a “worst-case scenario.”
“Unfortunately that’s come to be in this situation,” said Mr. Laprade, who was also deployed after earthquakes ravaged Haiti and Japan in the last two years. Both countries received an outpouring of support from Americans after their respective crises, though he said the famine is only now gaining widespread attention.
More than 12 million people are suffering from food shortages in eastern Africa, with millions of children facing malnutrition. Families are fleeing southern Somalia for stabilization camps across the border in Kenya.
Ms. McLaughlin visited Dadaab camp, a temporary home to nearly 400,000 people, almost as many as the city of Atlanta. Many walked for weeks across hundreds of miles of scorching landscape to reach the camp. They weren’t looking to escape violence; they were fleeing hunger, she said.
It is catching up with many of them. One mother told Ms. McClaughlin she had started her migration with three children and arrived with one alive.
“These people are suffering so much and all they want is food,” she said. About 80 percent of the camps’ inhabitants are women and children.
CARE is among the Atlanta groups working to fill the need. The nonprofit has worked in Dadaab since 1992, but with nearly 1,500 people arriving there each day, even the best and most coordinated efforts among aid groups can’t keep up with the expanding need for food, education, water conservation and health care.
CARE often receives funding and logistical help from corporations, including the Fortune 500 firms in Atlanta.
Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc. announced Aug. 11 that it would fly more than 100 tons of food from Cologne, Germany, to Nairobi, Kenya, this week. The logistics and package delivery giant’s charitable arm also donated $100,000 to support UNICEF‘s relief efforts.
UPS has given CARE $150,000, and other local corporations have also donated to its goal of raising $48 million to deal with the crisis, Jon Mitchell, CARE’s senior vice president for global operations, told GlobalAtlanta.
The Coca-Cola Foundation and the company’s Nairobi-based central and eastern Africa business unit, which covers 39 countries, announced a $1.4 million donation Aug. 12. About $1 million will go directly to the American Red Cross. Its local partners will truck water to hard-hit areas and distribute food and medicine to affected communities, with a particular focus on children.
Other humanitarian organizations are also exploring ways to respond.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, visited the Decatur headquarters and warehouse of MedShare on Aug. 10 to discuss a partnership to send medical supplies to meet health care needs caused by malnutrition.
Visit http://www.care.org/emergency/Horn-of-Africa-food-poverty-crisis-Dadaab-2011/index.asp for more information or to donate to CARE.