Editorial: Somalia and the common good

Cecily McNeill2011The latest drought in the Horn of Africa has dominated the news in past weeks with nightly televised film of emaciated people barely subsisting on parched land. But an…

Cecily McNeill

The latest drought in the Horn of Africa has dominated the news in past weeks with nightly televised film of emaciated people barely subsisting on parched land. But an analysis reprinted from Guardian News and Media in the Sunday Star Times on July 24 suggests this latest of many to hit this region is as preventable as the others have been.

John Vidal reports there is nothing new and that in future there is no doubt climate change will make these areas of Africa harder to live in.

‘But to pin this crisis on drought or climate change is wrong. This is an entirely predictable, man-made disaster, [due to the insecurity and lack of government in Somalia and diminishing land available to nomadic pastoralists] with little new about it except the numbers of people on the move…

‘The fleeing Somalis seen on TV are the same people the United Nations warned about in 2008 when it said that one in six were at risk of starvation. The same [donor] governments who were slow to respond then are the ones who have been unwilling to help now.’

Often when observing the plight of other countries the problems that beset our own country are most starkly highlighted.

Sure no one dies of starvation in this lush land but there are the same issues of inequality in New Zealand as in African countries. Those in government whose decisions directly affect the majority are not usually living the same harsh conditions.

New Zealand’s prime minister is unlikely to face the same struggle for nourishing food as the children living in sole-parent families in this country. It has been noted that while the country strives to adjust its spending to cope with a repressed economy as well as the demands of rebuilding in Christchurch, the government seems reluctant to review its 2010 tax cuts which gave top income earners the biggest boost and left the majority with a much smaller, if any, increase in income.

The Catholic response
The principle of the common good in Catholic Social Teaching calls for bold and generous action. The US Catholic Bishops Conference quoted Pope John Paul II in 2001, ‘Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity … the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences.’ Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, USCCB, 2001 #29.

As Catholics we need to be concerned for those who are suffering be they the children of our own country, or those struggling to make a living from parched land on the other side of the world. This concern can be shown
• by responding to Caritas’ Horn of Africa appeal
• in the way we use our own resources,
• in educating ourselves about the issues that impact on others,
• in recognising the role of our government in international fora and discussing our concerns with our local MP, and
• in voting for the government most likely to act on our concerns whether redressing national inequality, or advocating international solutions that most favourably address the needs of those least able to help themselves.