WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten urged President Obama to help marshal the humanitarian aid needed to halt the advance of the apocalyptic "children's famine" spreading through Somalia and neighboring nations in the Horn of Africa.
The most severe drought in 60 years has produced famine conditions that are worst in southern Somalia, but also threaten parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
"We live in an era in which the global landscape is constantly shifting," Weingarten said in a letter to the president. "But the humanitarian spirit and generosity of the American people have not changed. With your leadership, we will once again be able to harness that spirit."
Weingarten commended the president and his administration for efforts to improve what has been called the "children's famine" because of its impact on the very young. The United States has provided more than $500 million in humanitarian aid to the region, and the State Department recently clarified legal issues that had restricted delivery of supplies and humanitarian services by American nongovernmental organizations in areas of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
"As representatives of teaching and healthcare professionals, we are grateful for these actions by our government that will help save the lives of Somali children," Weingarten said.
But more needs to be done, she said in the letter. "Your leadership is critical to charting the course of this work and calling on leaders around the world to join with you in halting the advance of this apocalyptic famine."
She pointed out that budget cuts proposed in Congress would reduce food assistance and significantly undermine relief efforts in Somalia. "There should be no doubt that this effort is fundamental to our values as a nation," Weingarten said, "and has the support of the American people, who care about those who suffer—particularly when they are children. This is who we are as a people."
The AFT is mobilizing members to write their congressional representatives to urge them to increase, not cut, humanitarian aid for the Horn of Africa.
The full text of Weingarten's letter to President Obama is available at http://go.aft.org/somalia.