Thursday, 1 September 2011


“Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past.” - Norman Borlaug

Twenty six years ago, the world’s pop stars gathered together at Live Aid in order to relieve the famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. They managed to raise $230 million for relief efforts in 1985 and a great humanitarian disaster was stemmed. We are now witnessing the return of the spectre of famine with millions of impoverished Ethiopians and Somalians facing the threat of worsening famine in what is shaping up to be the country’s worst food crisis in decades.

Declaring that a country’s population is suffering from famine is a political decision. While it awakens worldwide public awareness and can bring millions into aid programs, it is widely seen by the international community as a political failure of the incumbent political leader. The Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission of Ethiopia is charged with preventing famines of the 1984-85 type, and generally the government supports these activities as the famine of the mid-eighties is the sort that can bring down governments. However, widespread political instability, conflict, economic mismanagement, corruption and extreme weather conditions have all conspired to bring back a critical situation that is claiming thousands of lives daily.

Practically, the difference between a food crisis and a famine is whether enough aid arrives to keep the starving populace alive. While the scope of the problem can be measured in the number of hungry people, the severity depends on the generosity of those in the rich, fed world. And this year the fat nations have been miserly with their aid. Despite the promise of G8 leaders to provide funds to improve food security in poor countries, contributions have slumped dramatically over the last few years as donor states have shifted priorities to supporting their banks and stimulating their own economies. The international community therefore is not living up to its promise to the World Food Program.

In mid July this year, famine was officially declared in two regions of southern Somalia – the first time a major famine has been announced since the famine in the Somali region of Ethiopia in 2000. This declaration of famine confirms that the Horn of Africa emergency is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world now. The United Nations is warning that if the international community does not act decisively, famine will spread to all areas of southern Somalia within the next few months. Across Somalia, more than four million people (more than half the entire population) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. In some areas in the south, nearly half the population is malnourished. These areas have the highest malnutrition rates in the world.

Across the three worst-affected countries of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, more than 11 million people need immediate food assistance.  To respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, it is essential for international donors to commit funds to this emergency immediately to provide lifesaving aid to people affected by the famine and food crisis. The current humanitarian response is inadequate due to lack of funding and of access. The worst drought in 60 years has caused the world’s most severe food crisis in East Africa with more than 12.4 million people currently in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. People are crying out: “Please tell the world for us, that we need help, and that we need it now. We cannot last much longer…

The image above is taken by Brendan Bannon who is a photojournalist. Journalist Paula Nelson writes:
“I first went to the Dadaab refugee camp, close to the border between Kenya and Somalia, at the end of 2006…. Dadaab has become the largest refugee camp in the world, and Kenya’s fourth largest city: 440,000 people have gathered in makeshift shelters, made of branches and tarps. Experiencing Dadaab again last week was profoundly humbling. I was confronted with deep suffering and need. Slowing down and talking to people, I heard stories of indomitable courage and determination and of making horrible choices. Most of these people have survived 20 years of war in Somalia, two years of drought, and it’s only now that they are fleeing their homeland. They are accomplished survivors. One morning, I was talking to a family of ten. I poured a full glass of water from a pitcher and passed it to a child. He took a sip, and passed it on to his brother and so on. The last one returned it to me with enough left for the last gulp. Even in the camp, they take only what they need to survive and share the rest. What you see on the surface looks like extreme fragility, but it’s actually tremendous resilience and the extraordinary affirmation of their will to live…”

You can help by donating to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and be assured that 90% of your donation will go directly to the field to help people in need.

1 comment:

  1. This is a worldwide disgrace, Nicholas. The international community is ignoring Africa at its peril. What with the pirates off the East Coast, the civil wars, the power-hungry dictators and military chiefs wreaking havoc, the climate effects on the land and the inability of the people to help themselves is causing an enormous catastrophe. The sooner we become more responsible towards our fellow humans the better the chances for survival with dignity for people such as these.