Africa: a land at the crossroads

A look at the challenges of daily living throughout the African continent, and the humanitarian efforts that the Adventist Church undertakes to alleviate suffering.

Hearly G. Mayr is assistant director for marketing and development, ADRA International, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
Mike Negerie is regional technical manager for health in Africa, ADRA International.

With life in Africa frequently considered tough, every day becomes a challenge. Farmers lose fertile lands to droughts and desertification at an alarming rate. Profits from the extraction of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, platinum, gas, and oil have not improved life for the average African; instead, the extraction has polluted rivers, destroyed farmlands, and ignited civil unrest. Today, millions experience poverty, overpopulation, environmental decline, armed conflicts, and disease.

Appalling statistics show that in many areas of Africa life expectancy is just 48 years. Armed conflicts and famine have displaced more than 10 million people in their own countries and turned another 3.3 million into refugees. Across Africa between 21 and 27 million people are living with HIV/AIDS—60 percent of the world’s total population, while 12 million children have been orphaned because of AIDS. In 2006 alone, 2.2 million people with AIDS died in Africa.

For these reasons and more, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) tackles specific challenges, including malaria, refugees, water issues, and HIV/AIDS.

In what ways does ADRA make a difference?

The hazards of a bite

The Anophelesmosquito infects between 350–500 million people every year with Plasmodium, the protozoan parasite that causes malaria, resulting in about 3 million deaths yearly. Malaria has become one of the most significant threats to millions of Africans, especially among populations of refugees and displaced persons. Governments have started to pay attention. In Uganda, the Ministry of Health reports that malaria accounts for 25 to 40 percent of all outpatient visits to health facilities and that between 70,000 and 110,000 children die each year of the disease. These statistics, however, don’t reflect the true numbers because many people don’t seek medical help when ill.

The impact of malaria in Africa puts pressure on not only health services across the continent but also on the pocketbook of the average African. A single malaria episode can devastate a family’s income, especially when it hits the breadwinner. A family must cover hospital fees, medicines, and funeral expenses, if needed. In agricultural industries as much as 50 percent of lost man-hours are caused by malarial illnesses. Among school-aged children malaria has a similar effect, causing them to miss class and fall behind.

In Mozambique, where the disease killed 5,156 people and affected more than 6.3 million others in 2006 alone, ADRA is partnering with other organizations to implement the Together Against Malaria (TAM) project, which aims to reach 1.5 million Mozambicans. The United States’ First Lady, Laura Bush, announced the initiative recently in a speech in Maputo. “Defeating this epidemic is an urgent calling, especially because malaria is treatable and preventable,” she said.

ADRA plans to implement this plan first in the densely populated Zambezia province by working at the grassroots level, training faith leaders about malaria control and prevention practices, then partnering with the Ministry of Health to reach local communities.

Far from home

In the last 20 years, the world has become a fast-moving, interconnected global community. While life has improved for millions, many remain outside the loop. Among them are more than three million refugees and ten million internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Africa—the combined populations of New York, Buenos Aires, and Seoul.

Refugees and displaced persons don’t move because they want to. They move because droughts, wars, persecution, inaccessibility to food, and chronic poverty force them to do so. Life as a refugee and IDP, of course, can be diffi cult, even dangerous. Overcrowded camps are breeding grounds for cholera and other diseases. Food and water, if available, are heavily rationed. People must often live in impromptu shelters that barely protect them from the elements. Personal security has become a matter of concern too, especially for women and girls, who are often targets of sexual violence and indiscriminate killings.

Sudan has become one of the worstcase scenarios. Years of civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south and recent violent raids in North and West Darfur have killed at least 200,000 people since 2003. As a result of the fighting, more than 693,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, while at least 2 million others have been displaced inside Sudan. The chaos has left 4 million people completely dependent on food aid.

The issue of displacement extends across Africa. Fightingand repetitive droughts in Somalia have forced more than 400,000 people from their homes. In northern Uganda, a brutal conflict has displaced more than 1 million people. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a decade of fighting has killed almost 4 million and caused 1.1 million to leave their homes and more than 430,000 to seek asylum in nearby countries.

However, in Liberia groups of refugees who fl ed the country’s two civil wars are returning home, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Angola reports a similar trend, and so do Burundi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Somalia, and a handful of other nations, albeit in smaller numbers.

As displaced Liberians return to their homeland after years of war, ADRA helps them resettle and jumpstart the farming sector destroyed during the violence. This project makes food available to more than 17,100 people in Lofa County.

In Somalia, where repeated droughts have caused traditional water sources to become unreliable, the ADRA Bakol Water Drought Response (BWDR) project addresses the water and sanitation needs of more than seven thousand people and nine hundred IDPs by deepening wells and building new water troughs for cattle.

In Sudan more than 20 years of conflict have displaced some five million people. But many are starting to go home. To help them during their trip down the Nile River, a journey that can last up to two months, ADRA’s Returnees Support Program provides healthcare, shelter, food, clean water, blankets, and hygiene items—each a necessary part of feeling at home again.

The ultimate commodity

While Africa begins to show signs of a water crisis, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the problem continues to be so severe that future “water wars” could be looming. Experts blame rapid population growth and urbanization for this problem. Exacerbating the situation are millions—among them refugees and IDPs—who are migrating to areas where water is already in short supply.

Take, for instance, Lake Chad. Since 1960, this lake, which straddles the borders of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon, has shrunk by 90 percent, from 10,000 square miles to less than 580; a situation that has been caused by recurring droughts and increased extraction of irrigation water from the rivers that feed Lake Chad.

Conflict may center, too, around water sources like the River Cuito, which flows through portions of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana; the Nile river— the longest river in the world—that links the Great Lakes region in central Africa to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt; and the Niger River extending across Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.

Why? Each of these rivers flows through existing arid portions of Africa and, more critically, all the countries that lie in their path will suffer from water scarcity by 2025.

More pressing, however, is the existing quality of the water that many Africans, including millions of children, drink. Unclean water and poor sanitation cause cholera, intestinal worms, and diarrhea. In sub-Saharan Africa, just 56 percent of people have clean water.

Every year diarrhea, the third largest child killer after pneumonia and malaria, kills more than 700,000 children throughout Africa. In fact, a child born in Africa is fi ve hundred times more likely to die of diarrhea than a baby born in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, or Russia.

To deal with the problem, ADRA is implementing different water projects. In Togo, ADRA funds an $118,000 project to provide safe drinking water to 13,500 people in nine villages in the Maritime region. Not far to the north in Mali, a new project, (known as Water and Education for a Long Life) that will cost $120,000, will help approximately 48,000 Malians gain access to decent water. The project will also highlight the importance of clean water and encourage women and children to adopt safer hygiene practices. In Namibia, ADRA works among the San people, or Bushmen, to build wells and fi t them with solar-powered pumps, which not only help keep the environment clean, but are a cost-effective way to extract water in a region where electricity is hard to come by.

Outliving a killer

Though sub-Saharan Africa has only 12 percent of the world’s population, it has 60 percent of the total cases of HIV and AIDS. The epidemic has devastated much of southern Africa. Botswana, a landlocked nation with the second highest occurrence of HIV and AIDS, 24.1 percent, in the world— only second to Swaziland at 33.4 percent—has seen life expectancy drop to 38 years, down from 60 years in 1987 and 46 years in 1958. Nearly identical trends are happening in neighboring countries. Because of HIV and AIDS, experts estimate that by 2010 life expectancies in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will revert to nineteenth century levels—below 30 years—at a time when they should have reached 70 years.

But some positive trends exist amid all this doom. In 1992 Uganda was among the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, registering prevalence rates of 18 percent and higher in some areas. Between 1990 and 2000, a campaign promoting abstinence and fidelity helped reduce the occurrence to just 6 percent, the biggest drop of any African country.

Understanding the need for HIV and AIDS prevention, ADRA has implemented numerous multimillion dollar HIV/AIDS programs targeting close to nine million direct and indirect beneficiaries in many African countries. ADRA’s initiatives are implemented in collaboration with the public, private, and/or community organizations—focusing especially on HIV and AIDS awareness, prevention, and control activities. The initiatives also focus on orphaned and vulnerable children, voluntary counseling and testing, and provision of community and home-based care for persons living with HIV.

ADRA’s Trainers of Trainers (TOT) program has been a highly successful initiative. Started in 2004, this program aims to provide HIV and AIDS counseling, care, and support to communities in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda by trainers and counselors who go into communities and discuss the effects of HIV and AIDS. TOT has worked with different branches of the Adventist Church in mobilizing people and other resources to support activities directed at reducing HIV infections among marginalized groups in hospitals, clinics, schools, churches, homes, and communities.

Who has benefi ted? So far, more than 231,250 people who received counseling, 1,127,904 participants of sensitization meetings, and 156,487 beneficiaries who received referrals for other HIV and AIDS services.

Church families can make a difference

The challenges facing much of Africa are great. However, these challenges are not restricted to just one part of the world. Now, more than ever, we all are part of a global community, linked to others in ways that were unimaginable a generation or two ago. “Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads,” said American writer Herman Melville. When others prosper, we prosper. When they suffer, we do too. And when others are vulnerable, we are called to comfort them and show God’s unconditional love. “The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort. He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4, CEV).

The Lord has asked us to be brothers and sisters to the less fortunate, to comfort them during difficult times. Naturally, not everyone can be on the front lines providing food, water, or medical assistance. However, each church family member, whom you represent, can pray for the work that ADRA does unconditionally around the world. This vital act is necessary for ADRA’s lifesaving ministry to continue growing. Please pray. Miracles happen every day.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Hearly G. Mayr is assistant director for marketing and development, ADRA International, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
Mike Negerie is regional technical manager for health in Africa, ADRA International.

October 2007

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