How to get from watching a famine to actually doing something about it | 

Digging for drinking water in a dry riverbed
Digging for drinking water in a dry riverbed

Experts knew it was coming. In March of 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that low rains in the Horn of the Africa would make parts food insecure through June.

“A poor season could result in a major crisis. Therefore, these areas require especially close monitoring over the coming months,” warned the report.

Despite the warnings of a potential crisis, little action was taken. When the rains did not come and the drought led to famine in parts of Somalia by July it was too late for some people. Food and fuel prices spiked. An estimated 11.5 million people needed immediate humanitarian assistance, said the UN, and tens of thousands died.

In just a span of 90 days, an estimated 29,000 Somali children died.

“The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia this crisis has played out very differently, but common to all of them was a slow response to early warnings,” said former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last year. Continue reading

Interactive: How the world responded in 2011 to Somalia’s famine | 

The Guardian has produced an excellent interactive analysis of how, and why, the international community responded to the famine in Somalia in 2011:

The Guardian

Some conclusions:

Despite sophisticated early warning systems to help predict – and, in theory, prevent – the escalation of severe food crises, it seems it is still the declaration of famine that prompts action.

More than 70% of funding and almost 90% of mainstream US and UK media coverage (based on our analysis of six major news outlets) came after the formal declaration of famine on 20 July 2011. Public engagement, estimated by Google searches and Twitter mentions, followed a similar trend.

Somalia: Famine, death and suffering continues | 

The deadly, tragic situation in Somalia persists.

As the ONE Campaign notes in an overview Update on Horn of Africa:

Four million people remain food insecure in Somalia and 250,000 in Southern Somalia continue to face famine conditions. These conditions are expected to persist at least through December 2011 and depending on the favorability of rains in spring 2012, could be prolonged.

Also featured by ONE is this excellent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary describing the current situation:

Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times is screaming at you | 


Malnourished children in Somalia

To pay attention to the massive catastrophe still unfolding in the Horn of Africa!

Traditionally, at least within the mainstream media, journalists are supposed to behave as if they are neutral observers. It’s a crock, of course, since we’re real people full of all sorts of opinions, emotions and thoughts. The best we can do is be fair and try to present all sides.

Jeffrey Gettleman covers the famine in East Africa, mostly Somalia, for the New York Times. He does an excellent job.

Here’s his latest article, Somalia Agony Tests the Limit of AID.

I think this story is also testing the limits of Gettleman — to maintain (the pretense of?) objectivity. It’s not labeled “analysis,” but you can feel his anguish throughout. He is shocked by the death and misery, outraged at how little attention and money this famine is getting relative to the human toll it is taking:

My job is to seek out the suffering and write about it and to analyze the causes and especially the response, which has been woefully inadequate by all accounts, though not totally hopeless.

Gettleman starts his story with a visit to a hospital, where five children died during his visit. He reports ‘objectively’ about other deaths and describes how Islamist rebels have made a terrible situation worse. He talks about the history of instability in Somalia. Gettleman gives all the facts you might need to shrug your shoulders and say it’s too bad but what can I do? Here’s what:

But support — meaning dollars — has been frustratingly scant. While many more lives are at stake in Somalia’s crisis, other recent disasters pulled in far more money. For instance, Save the Children U.S. has raised a little more than $5 million in private donations for the Horn of Africa crisis, which includes Somalia and the drought-inflicted areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. That contrasts with what Save the Children raised in 2004 for the Indonesian tsunami ($55.4 million) or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 ($28.2 million) or even the earthquake in Japan earlier this year ($22.8 million) — and Japan is a rich country.

Gettleman is clearly outraged, at what he’s seeing, at the local politics that contributes to this tragedy and at the international community’s “inadequate” response to this stunning loss of life.

It’s good journalism, but mostly because it’s not at all objective or neutral. It’s real.

One man reached out and jerked my arm. “Look!” he said, pointing to a small bundle in the corner of his tent. I peered in. It was the corpse of his 2-year-old son, Suleiman, who had just died….

It is important to remember that however plagued Somalia is, however routine conflict, drought and disease have become, however many Somalis have already needlessly died, Somalis are not somehow wired differently from the rest of us. They are not numb to suffering. They are not grief-proof. I’ll never forget the expression on Mr. Kufow’s face as he stumbled out of Benadir Hospital into the penetrating sunshine with his lifeless little girl in his arms. He may not have been weeping openly. But he looked as if he could barely breathe.

Does chasing down terrorists in Somalia help or hurt famine relief effort? | 


Refugees in East Africa

The deadly famine in East Africa continues and now conflict involving the Islamist extremists known as al-Shabab could make a terrible situation much worse.

Aid workers are getting kidnapped, the Kenyan military invaded Somalia to search for the extremists (who deny the kidnappings), which then prompted a claimed member of al-Shabab to explode grenades in Nairobi – prompting Somalia’s president to ask Kenya to back off.

This, in turn, caused officials in the U.S. and Europe to urge Somalia to allow Kenya in to pursue al-Shabab.

Meanwhile, as Voice of America reports, those most in need are figuratively caught in the crossfire as the military campaign undermines the relief efforts.

The United Nations says recent military activity along the Kenya-Somalia border is restricting famine relief efforts and preventing Somalis from fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya. The U.N. Refugee Agency said Wednesday that only 100 Somali refugees entered Kenya last week, down from 3,400 in the previous week.

To combat the tendency for the American public, and the media, to forget about this ongoing catastrophe, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) has launched a PR campaign together with the Ad Council called “We are the relief.” I think they could have come up with a better theme, but at least they’re trying. Here’s some of what USAID is putting out:


Comparative catastrophes

World population soon to hit the 7 billion (or so) mark | 

Flickr, hikingartist.com

Sometime around Halloween, we’re told, the world’s 7th billion living person will be born.

It will be a statistical and somewhat sketchy milestone since there is no way to actually, accurately, identify this bouncing 7-billionth baby. That won’t stop anyone from trying, of course, and so the UN is suggesting each country identify its own 7th-billion baby.

Whether you should celebrate this milestone, recoil in horror or shrug depends upon your perspective regarding global population growth. Author of the the term (and book called) the “Population Bomb,” Paul Ehrlich continues to predict doom and gloom due to the swelling global population.

But Ehrlich’s earlier predictions of mass human starvation in the 1980s caused by too many people didn’t come true. Starvation still kills (as is happening right now in East Africa) but not really due to too many people. We still have enough food to feed everyone. The reason people starve today is due more to economic and political barriers.

Zambia is the world’s fastest growing nation, and also a low-income country. That’s generally regarded as being on the problem side of the population equation. Population growth and poverty are not a good mix. Yet for many poor farming communities in Africa, larger families translated into a larger family labor pool, as well as the parents only form of social security for when they get old or sick.

One of the main solutions to the problem of over-population and poverty is to educate girls and women about family planning, and to reduce the barriers for girls getting an education.

As this report from The Guardian notes, Tanzania is learning the value of education as a means to encouraging reduced family size:

A third of Tanzanians over 10 years old cannot read or write and those women with no education have an average of 6.9 babies. Women with a primary school education have 5.6 babies on average and those with secondary and higher education, just 3.2 babies.

So how much as the world’s population grown since you were born? I’m not a spring chicken and the world had only 2.8 billion people milling around when I came into being. China’s population was on the decline back then (due to extreme poverty and bad politics).

You can see for yourself how things have changed since your birth date using this interactive from The Guardian.

How should U.S. respond when Somali militants threaten famine relief? | 


Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child

The Al-Shabaab Somali militants affiliated with Al Qaida have vowed to continue their attacks on civilians after taking responsibility for a suicide bombing in Mogadishu that has killed anywhere from 70 to 100 people.

The UN refugee agency says this is likely to make the already difficult famine relief effort harder. An estimated 750,000 are at risk of dying from starvation and malnutrition.

CNN reports ‘scores dead’ and that many of those killed were students:

A truck filled with explosives barreled into a government complex in the heart of Somalia’s restive capital Tuesday, a brazen strike killing dozens of people, including students registering for an education program.

As the Boston Globe reports, many had thought the capital city was safe after the militants fled in August: Continue reading

Bono uses the F word | 

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.


Says Bono:

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: