Over 7 Million in East Africa on brink of starvation amid pandemic, violence and infestation

An excited mother leaves a distribution center with her food. | World Vision

Over 7 million people across six East African countries are at the cusp of starvation as communities have faced existential threats from violence, flooding, the pandemic and locust infestation, the evangelical humanitarian organization World Vision has warned.

According to the charity, which operates in nearly 100 countries, thousands of children could face death or long-term health consequences if the international community does not respond quickly to East Africa’s worsening crisis. 

Debebe Dawit, program manager for World Vision’s humanitarian emergency affairs team, recently visited Ethiopia and saw firsthand the effects of poverty in the East African country. He said the situation is “severe.”

“The situation is very severe in East Africa, and particularly Ethiopia. Over 2 million people are in need of food assistance,” Dawit told The Christian Post in a Thursday interview. “Among conflict, COVID-19, flooding, locust infestation, all these are adding [an] additional burden to the community.”

Before the pandemic began, several countries in East Africa faced a widespread desert locust infestation that impacted hundreds of thousands of hectares and damaged croplands and pastures. 

Later in 2020, large-scale floods destroyed crops that were ready to harvest, which impacted the food supply for 4 million people in the region, World Vision reports. 

Matters have also been complicated by military conflicts — most recently the Tigray conflict —  and the rise of Islamic extremism. 

To address the starvation and poverty crisis in East Africa, World Vision launched a multi-country emergency response for Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The goal is to reach 2.4 million people, which includes 490,000 children. 

Lack of funding is the key element that prevents a faster response. 

“At the end of the day, it will come [down] to resources,” Dawit acknowledged.

World Vision’s intervention is primarily focused on the immediate needs of the children, he said.

“The long-term effect of malnutrition especially hinders a child’s development and ability to reach their “God-given potential,” World Vision CEO and President Edgar Sandoval Sr. said in a statement

“It’s heart-breaking that the lives of millions of children in East Africa are at risk due to a perfect storm of conflict, changing or unpredictable weather patterns, and the aftershocks of COVID-19.”

A World Vision employee talks to two children during a visit in South Sudan. | World Vision

Dawit said the situation in East Africa, riddled with conflict, drought, flooding and natural disasters, is ever-changing. 

“It’s like a pendulum. …,” he explained. “Because of the droughts or flooding or COVID-19, these people are going deeper into poverty. It’s a very complex situation in East Africa.”

The program manager said many have already succumbed to starvation or poverty. He believes the approach to the crisis must be proactive rather than reactive. 

“One of the critical elements in this one is when famine or drought is happening, we always act after the fact. … Usually, we respond after people have died,” Dawit shared. “We need to be proactive in responding and providing funding to avoid the [deterioration] of the situation. The key thing here is people are dying before the famine of the drought is declared. So that needs to be looked at, and we need to act immediately and prevent further suffering.” 

The pandemic has made the situation more difficult for East Africans because of the blow to their already weakened economies. 

“The pandemic just brought additional burden,” Dawit continued. “The condition is getting worse … People are living [on less than a dollar a day]. So the country has been locked up. The economy has been affected. So many people are in hunger because they couldn’t go out and make that dollar a day to survive. So the [economic] impact of COVID is [devastating] across Africa and particularly in East Africa.”

An estimated 108,000 people in East Africa live under catastrophic famine conditions, and the number is expected to increase with excessive rainy seasons and conflict plaguing the region. 

World Vision estimates that another 26 million are a step away from famine if urgent action cannot prevent them from sliding into the same situation.

Women and girls face the greatest risk due to gender-based violence, abuse and sexual exploitation. 

“In the face of unprecedented global demands for humanitarian funding, crises in East Africa are receiving limited international attention, despite urgent and life-threatening needs,” Joseph Kamara, World Vision’s regional humanitarian and emergency affairs director for East Africa, said in a statement. “We appeal to national governments, regional institutions, humanitarian actors and donors to urgently address the hunger crisis in East Africa and more forcefully communicate its breadth and severity.”

The organization is seeking $60 million to extend and mobilize this response to the East African hunger crisis. Dawit encourages the donor community to donate to help meet this urgent need. 

In an interview with The Christian Post last year, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley warned that 2021 might see “famines of biblical proportions” since economic struggles could hamper global responses to food shortages.

The former South Carolina governor said that the pandemic’s fiscal realities could lead to a decrease in funding when as many as 270 million people globally could be pushed to the brink of starvation. 

GOP congressman enters NY gubernatorial race amid ‘long line’ of Cuomo scandals, ‘lies’

Representative Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., right, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on September 16, 2020, in Washington, D.C. The hearing is investigating the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. | Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin has announced that he’ll be entering the 2022 New York gubernatorial race following what he decried as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “cover-ups, abuse and self-dealing.” 

Zeldin made the announcement Thursday morning on Twitter, where he accused Cuomo of being “at the helm” of New York’s downfall due to the “deadly nursing home order and cover-up,” as well as a “long line of scandal, lies and harassment.” 

“To save NY, #CuomosGottaGo!,” Zeldin tweeted. “I’ll bring the kind of relentless, fighting spirit towards helping to save our state that Cuomo reserves for multi-million dollar self-congratulatory book deals, cover-ups, abuse & self-dealing.” 

Zeldin, who was first elected to Congress in 2015, lamented the one-party rule in New York, which he said has contributed to many of its residents’ problems. 

New York, he said, has long been a “beacon of hope, progress and patriotism” throughout United States history: “From Washington leading the Continental Army from Manhattan, to Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, & the rebuilding of NYC after 9/11.”

But now, he added, residents are fleeing the state due to lost jobs, high taxes and rising crime. 

“Cuomo has abused the power & trust granted to him & it’s time for him to immediately exit stage left,” Zeldin continued. “I’m ready to go all in on this mission and bring New York back from the brink and return it to glory.” 

In March, New York Republican lawmakers said they’d be filing an impeachment resolution against Cuomo due to his mishandling and cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths and sexual misconduct allegations.

Top Democrats in the legislature also called on the three-term governor to resign and questioned his “ability to continue to lead.” And in February, over a dozen Democratic state senators urged the Senate to remove Cuomo’s emergency powers.

A report released in January by New York Attorney General Letitia James revealed that Cuomo underreported nursing home deaths by as much as 50%.

After the report was published, officials disclosed nearly 4,000 additional deaths among nursing home residents.

During a press briefing, Cuomo derided the report on nursing home deaths as nothing more than a “political attack.”

“Where this starts is frankly a political attack from the prior federal administration,” Cuomo said at the time.

New York has one the highest COVID-19-linked death rates per 100,000 residents in the country. 

Along with suffering the high death toll, the state’s widespread lockdown regulations in response to COVID-19 also led to nearly 1.9 million New Yorkers losing their jobs from March to April 2020. 

New York City was among the hardest-hit areas due to ongoing government-mandated business closures that have led to high unemployment rates, the shuttering of small businesses that won’t be reopening and the depleted tourism industry.  

Zeldin added that many New Yorkers feel this is the “last stand” to save the state and “losing is not an option.”

“We have two choices,” Zeldin said in a campaign video on his website. “We can raise the white flag and surrender to mediocrity, corruption, coverups, more job losses and even higher taxes. We might as well just turn the lights off. Or we can roll up our sleeves and get to work to save our state. That’s what I’m going to do as New York’s next governor. Let’s do it together and show the world the real New York.” 

Zeldin, an attorney and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, is a native of Long Island. He is the only Jewish Republican in the 117th Congress. He lives in Shirley, New York, with his wife and their twin daughters. 

The fourth-term congressman is an ally of former President Donald Trump and was appointed to serve on Trump’s impeachment defense team during his first impeachment trial.

Zeldin isn’t the only prominent Republican entering the 2022 gubernatorial race, however.

Andrew Giuliani, who served as a special assistant in the Trump administration and is the son of former New York City mayor and Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, told the Washington Examiner that he also plans to run for governor in 2022. 

“Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate. Whether it’s going to be Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical [Attorney General] Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” Giuliani said. 

Multiple former female staffers have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, bullying and inappropriate behavior, which is another reason why many have called for his resignation. 

Cuomo has denied the allegations and has refused to resign. 

Contributors defend devotional book asking God for help to ‘hate white people’

Ariel Gonzalez Bovat/Twitter

Contributors to a devotional book featuring a prayer that asks God for help to “hate white people” have come to the author’s defense, saying people are missing the full context of the piece. 

Screenshots of the devotional book A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal were posted online last week by users who objected to the inclusion of a prayer titled “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman” by Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a professor of practical theology at Mercer University. 

“Dear God, Please help me to hate White people. Or at least to want to hate them. At least, I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively. I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist,” the passage read.

Walker-Barnes is described in her bio as “a clinical psychologist, public theologian, and ecumenical minister whose work focuses upon healing the legacies of racial and gender oppression.”

The genesis of much of the pushback against the book appears to have started with a Twitter post by Ryan McAllister, an evangelical pastor from Alexandria, Virginia, who shared images of passages from the book that one of his parishioners had taken at Target, where the book is being sold. The prayers, he said, are “completely anti-biblical” and a direct influence of critical race theory. 

Ariel Gonzalez Bovat, who describes herself on Twitter as a counselor and theologian, added: “It’s a travesty this kind of writing comes from a former clinical psychologist turned ‘ordained minister.’ Under no context should these words be an acceptable method of expression for professing Christians.”

Upon discovering that excerpts of her book were circulating online, Walker-Barnes defended her writing.

“I took my rage to God in prayer. I owned it. I was truthful to God about what I was struggling with. And I prayed for God not to let anger and hatred overwhelm me,” she said in an April 5 tweet

“I prayed to be true to the biblical mandate for peace, justice, & reconciliation even though I don’t think it’s possible.” 

She further explained in a subsequent blog post that she had been relentlessly harassed, that conservatives were targeting her and those who criticized her words were misrepresenting her and others who do “intersectional justice work.”

“In all truth, my familial and personal experiences of racism have given me thousands, maybe even millions, of reasons to hate White people. It could easily be seen as justified. And I could find biblical precedent for it,” she wrote. 

Contributors to the devotional book, edited by progressive author Sarah Bessey, also defended the prayer in a statement released Thursday.

While some might consider the request to God for help to hate white people “to be a provocative start to a prayer, its intentional extraction from the rest of the prayer obscures its context and the biblical model it is based on,” the statement said. 

Walker-Barnes was “bringing her weariness and her anger over the real sin of racism to God. In what is a clear moment of deep grief, she is talking intimately with her God about her exhaustion, her longing to simply not care anymore. We are given a vulnerable glimpse of her lament, her suffering, her weariness at the call to love her neighbours even when they oppress and marginalize her as a Black woman,” they added. 

In her Twitter thread, Walker-Barnes stated that she is “one generation removed from sharecropping” and wrote that prayer “after a White person … dropped the N-word in a casual conversation.”

“When my grandfather was 7, he & his dad escaped from their SC sharecropping farm in the middle of the night. They ran away to FL. In the 1900s, y’all, they had to escape under the cover of darkness!” she wrote. “These are the stories I’ve grown up with my whole life.”

2 Pakistani Christian nurses charged with blasphemy, could face life in prison

Christian devotees attend a Palm Sunday service at the Sacred Heart Cathedral church during the government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Lahore on April 5, 2020. | ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images

Police in Pakistan’s Punjab province arrested two Christian nurses on blasphemy charges after hospital staff accused them of scratching a sticker with a verse from the Quran written on it off a cupboard. One of the nurses was allegedly attacked with a knife by a colleague.

The nurses, identified as Maryam Lal and third-year student Navish Arooj who work in Civil Hospital in Punjab’s Faisalabad city, were arrested on Friday, according to the United Kingdom-based nonprofit Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.

The police complaint alleges that a Muslim nurse, identified as Rukhsana, witnessed Arooj scratching and removing the sticker on a hospital cupboard and handing it to Lal.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, a video circulated over social media showed an employee, identified as Mohammad Waqas, calling Lal vulgar names and telling a room full of other employees that she tore down a sticker carrying a Muslim prayer.

“Then he said that when he found out about it, he confronted the Christian nurse Mariam. He said, ‘I am a Muslim; how can a Muslim sit quietly over blasphemy of his Prophet,’” the ACLJ report states. “Then he proudly told the employees gathered in the room that he attacked Mariam with a knife, but failed when the blade broke, only injuring her arm.”

An aggressive mob gathered outside the hospital when police came to make the arrest and threatened to kill the two nurses, according to a video posted by Pak Adam TV Ministries.

According to ACLJ, charges have been filed under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code outlawing the desecration of the Quran or “extract therefrom,” which is punishable by life in prison.

“This is not the first incident of this kind, but in the past, we have seen how people use this law to settle their personal grudges or punish their rivals,” said CLAAS-UK Director Nasir Saeed in a statement. 

“I still remember 2009 when a Lahore Muslim factory owner was accused of committing blasphemy for removing an old calendar inscribed with holy Quranic verses from a wall. A factory worker killed him and two other men, and the enraged mob also assaulted management employees and set the factory on fire.”

Saeed argues that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to imprison and claim the lives of innocent people. Without government action to reform the blasphemy law, Saeed said that people like Waqas are emboldened to take the law into their own hands. 

In January, another Christian nurse, 30-year-old Tabitha Nazir Gill, was accused of blasphemy at Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi city in Sindh province, where she worked for nine years, the U.S.-based persecution advocacy organization International Christian Concern reported at the time.

A Muslim co-worker, who was not identified, allegedly made the accusation after a personal dispute over receiving cash tips from hospital patients.

According to the ICC report, the hospital’s head nurse instructed all medical staff not to receive cash tips from patients. Gill reportedly reminded the co-worker who she saw collect money from a patient about the instruction. The co-worker then accused Gill of committing blasphemy.

Hospital staff reportedly beat Gill after tying her up with ropes and locking her in a room before police arrived.

The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan’s penal code, is frequently misused for personal revenge. While it permits the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam or its Prophet Muhammad, it carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.

Islamic radicals also use the law to target religious minorities — Christians, Shias, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus.

A Lahore-based group, Centre for Social Justice, recently reported that 200 people were accused of blasphemy in 2020 — a record number of cases in one year. In total, the group reports that at least 1,855 people have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 1987.

International advocates have long called on Pakistan to reform its penal code as it is often used to persecute religious minorities. 

A Pakistani Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, who served as minister of minority affairs, was assassinated in March 2011 after calling for the blasphemy laws’ repeal. Former Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was also assassinated for his opposition to the country’s blasphemy law. Both men advocated for Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy. She was acquitted years later by the Pakistan Supreme Court.