Bono, U2′s lead singer and perhaps the world’s leading (or at least most celebrated) advocate in the fight against global poverty, has been known to use the F word on occasion.
Here, in this post for the ONE campaign (which Bono co-founded as a grassroots lobbying campaign to urge governments to fund the fight on poverty), he says another F word should be even more offensive.
The food crisis in the Horn of Africa is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe, but it is getting less attention than the latest Hollywood break-ups and make-ups.
What makes this so offensive, the rock star writes, is that famines are man-made. Droughts, crop failure and so on may have natural causes, Bono notes, but there is no reason anyone should starve to death in the 21st Century. There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone.
Here’s Bono and some of his well-known friends discussing the even-more-offensive F word:
It’s called Plumpy’nut, a nutritionally fortified peanut-based food paste that’s one of the primary weapons in the battle against starvation in the Horn of Africa.
And it well may be in wider use in the famine in East Africa because of some folks who months earlier filed a lawsuit challenging a patent on Plumpy’nut.
Here’s an NBC video report about a non-profit Rhode Island manufacturer of Plumpy’Nut (preceded by an ad for Nutri-Grain) and a famine refugee camp in Dadaab Kenya featuring children treated for malnutrition:
There have been a number of similar stories recently, on CNN, in Fast Company and other media. Most follow a similar story line, describing this amazingly cheap, simple and powerful nutritional product and its use to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world.
What gets little mention in most of these stories is that Plumpy’nut was invented and patented by a French company, Nutriset, many years ago. And when these other companies, like the one profiled by NBC, wanted to get in on the action of producing this humanitarian foodstuff a patent protection legal battle ensued.
Joy Portella of Mercy Corps (the subject of my earlier post) is back in Seattle after traveling in East Africa and sharing her observations for her organization’s blog — as well as doing stories for other media. Portella was in the world’s newest nation South Sudan for its first independence day celebration and after that traveled to do reports on drought-stricken east Africa.
Portella worked with many media and wrote a number or articles, including these compelling stories for CNN. Here she is on CNN being interviewed for further perspective:
The reports all feature photos credited to Mercy Corps and the latest CNN interview with Portella ends with a suggestion that people donate funds to Mercy Corps and other such organizations.
Portella also wrote this op-ed today for the Christian Science Monitor contending, correctly I think, that the famine now killing thousands in the Horn of Africa is at least as deserving of American aid as was Japan after it was hit by a devastating quake and tsunami:
The people of the Horn of Africa are suffering in numbers bigger than those that inspired the Live Aid anti-famine movement of the 1980s. Things won’t get better in the coming months leading up to the hoped-for fall rains. If we – American donors, the U.S. government, and other donor countries, together with the governments of the affected region – don’t act now, the vice will keep tightening, and families will get squeezed dry.
I think Portella’s stories and op-eds are great. But I also think it’s important to note that she has been serving as a proxy for media organizations who are not on the scene and not really doing the reporting. The fund-raising pitch at the end of the CNN video is a little disturbing, as another indication that the line between those doing aid and those reporting on it is getting blurred.
I would be interested in seeing a comparative analysis of both the humanitarian response and the media’s response to the tragedies in Japan and East Africa.
I think I’m on solid ground saying that the media devoted much more attention and resources to the tragedy in Japan than it has, so far, to the much more severe and devastating catastrophe unfolding in East Africa. What about the humanitarian response? Did we actually give more money to Japan?
Is the lack of investment by the media in telling the story of the crisis in East Africa part of the problem here? Is the increasing practice of asking members of aid organizations, people like Portella, to act as proxies for the absent media a stop-gap solution, or also a potential problem?