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Famine in East Africa
July 27, 2011 6:12 PM   Subscribe

With East Africa facing its worst drought in 60 years, affecting more than 11 million people, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time in a generation. Alan Taylor's In Focus quickly brings home the scale of the suffering, with a link to the CNN article listing several ways to donate.
posted by bwg (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
CNN, back when it was relevant, had a special on how hothouses growing roses contributed to African villages losing their entire water supply. I will RTFA, but it stinks how we plunder every resource in africa for the most unnecessary crap.
posted by JLovebomb at 6:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was thinking of a writing a post along these lines, with a focus particularly on Dadaab, the world largest refugee camp, with almost half a million people seeking the bare necessities of life there. Here's a photo essay. And some personal stories.

Here's what MSF are up to in the region. Here is their donations page.

Red Cross Australia has an appeal going, with information and a how to donate.

CARE has a page as well, with a donation link.
posted by wilful at 6:56 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Extremist Islamic militias banning foreign food aid and triangle shaped pastries are probably not helping.
posted by Winnemac at 7:08 PM on July 27, 2011


The images are heartbreaking, but what's worse are the animals preventing food from reaching those so desperately in need.

I donated anyway (I chose MercyCorps in this instance) in the hope that the better agencies will find a way to get the food in.
posted by bwg at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2011


From the link:
Aid agencies are frustrated by many crippling situations: the slow response of Western governments, local governments and terrorist groups blocking access, terrorist and bandit attacks, and anti-terrorism laws that restrict who the aid groups can deal with.
So, yeah, they "are probably not helping", but the problem is a bit bigger than that.
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2011


Drought does not equal famine:
Famine stops at the Somali border. I assure you this is not a political manipulation of the data – it is the data we have. Basically, the people without a functional state and collapsing markets are being hit much harder than their counterparts in Ethiopia and Kenya, even though everyone is affected by the same bad rains, and the livelihoods of those in Somalia are not all that different than those across the borders in Ethiopia and Kenya.
FEWS-NET, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, is a US-government funded mapping and prediction resource (and more, too). Here's their page on the topic - it's incredibly detailed and trustworthy.

Al-Jazeera has an entire section on the crisis.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is an obesity epidemic where I live. This world has fucked up priorities.
posted by the noob at 8:14 PM on July 27, 2011


Yet another problem we can blame at least partly on Wall Street, as it turns out.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


...And to Western industry in general, given the connections between the droughts in the region and global warming.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:52 PM on July 27, 2011


Here's a report from Rafiq Copeland, a freelance writer in Dadaab:
By now everyone has seen the pictures. They speak of humanity at its furthest extreme -- skeletal children, dying mothers, fly-blown wounds on feet that have walked for days. In terms of the desperation of the situation, the pictures speak for themselves.

The transformation that these images, broadcast on the nightly news, have had on the Dadaab refugee camp is noticeable. A situation that has been worsening for several years has almost overnight been recognised for the humanitarian crisis it is: the most serious such crisis currently facing the planet. The recognition is welcome, but unless it is matched by action it is meaningless.

Four weeks ago I was having a beer with some BBC journalists in the UNHCR compound in Dadaab. They were here shooting a story on a particular ethnic group from southern Ethiopia; they knew almost nothing about the food crisis and when I tried to explain how serious it was to them they were genuinely surprised. The next day they told me they had been asked by the London office to shoot something for the news while they were here -- they weren’t set up for the quick turnaround and needed advice about edit facilities in Nairobi. That week they were the only media in the camp.

Within days everything changed. Journalists have been pouring into Dadaab in almost as steady a stream as the refugees. Relief agencies have been coming too. Money and resources -- though still nowhere near enough -- have started to become available where they are needed most.

Recently I’ve been seeing Dadaab described as the "ground zero" of the food crisis. This simply isn’t the case. As bad as things are in Dadaab, and they are very bad indeed, this is not the epicentre of the famine -- it’s the epicentre of the relief effort. This is very important to keep in mind. The images you’re seeing on the news are shocking, horrific even, but they are of the people who have made it to safety. The tens of thousands who have made the journey here in the past few months are not the ones who are worst off. The people worst off are already dead.

Latest figures put the number of people at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa at 12 million. While the drought enforces suffering as far away as Eritrea and Uganda, the most affected areas are so far in southern Somalia and Ethiopia, including the disputed Ogaden region. It is no coincidence that the worst-hit areas are also the most insecure. If the role of man-made climate change in the drought is still in dispute, then the fact it is human folly that has turned this drought into a famine is less contested.

The most heinous example of politics exacerbating natural disaster has been the continued policy of al Shabaab in blocking food supplies and relief efforts in the regions of southern Somalia under their control. Al Shabaab (which translates as "the youth") is a militant Islamic group that may be reasonably compared to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a country with central government to speak of al Shabaab control huge regions in rule that is chaotic and brutal.

Exactly who is doing what to whom is hard to pin down in Somalia’s power vacuum, but new arrivals to Dadaab that I have spoken with also report al Shabaab preventing people from fleeing the region. Refugees tell stories of r-pe, mutilation with bayonets and other brutalities committed at the hands of the militants. It's likely much of this violence is as much banditry born out of chaos as it is an organised campaign. It’s hard to know.

Watching Somali Independence Day celebrations in Dadaab a few weeks ago was a strange feeling. Across the camp, refugees draped themselves in the blue and white flag of a country with no government and no future and danced wildly to sugary Somali pop music. "They really do love their country," a colleague of mine remarked in disbelief. It is a hard country to love.

In Dadaab itself the problems are far more complicated than a simple lack of food. Despite the huge influx the World Food Program and other responsible agencies have so far managed to keep the camp supplied with basic staples. Emergency funds currently being made available should ensure this remains the case. The real problem in the camps at least is access, registration and organisation.

In order to fully access the camps' facilities, a prospective refugee must register, have fingerprints taken and so forth. No one is disputing the necessity of this process -- Kenya is home to more than half a million refugees and there is an obvious need to know who is who. But the time it takes is agonising. The delay can be weeks. It is this bottleneck that creates the biggest hardship in Dadaab rather than any inherent shortage.

Another huge problem is simply lack of information. When people first arrive at Dadaab, often after weeks walking through the desert carrying their children and all they they own, they think they have reached a sanctuary. But often the tents and humpies the new arrivals take to be the haven they have heard about may be kilometres from the organised sections of the camp. Having arrived on the outskirts it is often days before new arrivals make their way to the initial registration centre, find the all-important tap-stands or hear about the emergency health services on offer. For many -- too many -- this simple delay can be fatal.

It is no small thing that the world has started to pay attention to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. Say what you will about "starvation p-rn" or media exploitation -- the fact is that the money raised in these few weeks will save lives. Potentially millions of lives.

Inevitably attention will wander. The story will not change -- only get worse -- and the media will tire of it. But with or without the cameras, children will still starve to death.
posted by wilful at 8:53 PM on July 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


I was not ready for the first picture in OP's link.

I've read, watched, discussed a lot of humanitarian issues. That picture just rocked me. Wasn't expecting it right off the bat. Wow.
posted by CancerStick at 9:00 PM on July 27, 2011


CancerStick: "I was not ready for the first picture in OP's link.

I've read, watched, discussed a lot of humanitarian issues. That picture just rocked me. Wasn't expecting it right off the bat. Wow.
"

Indeed, it hurts, and it's what spurred the post.
posted by bwg at 9:35 PM on July 27, 2011


Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea the situation was so severe.
posted by chara at 9:51 PM on July 27, 2011


the noob: "There is an obesity epidemic where I live. This world has fucked up priorities."

See This Onion Point/Counterpoint.

I remember back in early 2000s, I think I saw an agitprop type image in probably Anarchy magazine, with a huge bloated stomach of a typical obese American (and yes, I am one of those Americans) and below that the image of the bloated stomach of a malnourished child to compare and contrasts the two. I can't find it easily on a cursory Google search, however.
posted by symbioid at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


goddamn.

anybody know if they're trying to get Plumpy'nut there to help with this? (Here's an Anderson Cooper video on it)

Maybe it's too sever for this. I dunno.

But shit those pictures are sad.
posted by symbioid at 10:09 PM on July 27, 2011


Canadians who donate to recognized charities will have it matched by the government, in addition to $50 million that was announced last week. Well done Harper.
posted by HLD at 10:14 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Its nice that this is finally getting attention, but the really frustrating thing (particularly for those working in the aid / relief response) is that this isn't new. It may be "news" - but its not new. This has been brewing for a long time.

Its been over a year now since Al Shabab first banned humanitarian aid in the areas they controlled and then began invading the offices of such organizations - namely World Food Programme. The humanitarian organization I work for also lost offices and related resources when the compound we were co-located in with WFP was taken over. Even then, food security was a major challenge - it wasn't hard to speculate what would be the eventual fall-out once people had gone for a year or so without the basic support they had been getting before that.

Unfortunately, that wasn't news then either. It seemed small potatoes. Neither article linked above was more than a hundred words or so. There was no media in the general region to speak of at the time in any case.

Latest figures put the number of people at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa at 12 million.

Like most figures I see in humanitarian crises estimates, I tend to suspect that they are conservative if not drastically underestimated. The last estimates of Somalia's population were at a little over 10 million, figure the Ogaden area in Ethiopia at another 2.5 million and you're already at 12,5, and that doesn't even begin to count the other regions in Ethiopia that are also affected, let alone those in Kenya and Eritrea, and even as far as Uganda. Dadaab alone is estimated at 400,000, but that number changes every day with thousands of deaths and thousands of new entrants. That doesn't even count those who never even survive the trek there.

The most heinous example of politics exacerbating natural disaster has been the continued policy of al Shabaab in blocking food supplies and relief efforts in the regions of southern Somalia under their control. Al Shabaab (which translates as "the youth") is a militant Islamic group that may be reasonably compared to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a country with central government to speak of al Shabaab control huge regions in rule that is chaotic and brutal.

This bears repeating in every news source that's going to try to print anything about the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. In my opinion, and as far as I can tell from a cursory view of global politics / economics, the Taliban was a terrible, oppressive force to its people and Afghanistan is happy to be free of their rule. We may cast doubt and many questions at whether the US and others should have intervened in the first place, but when compared with the atrocities in Iraq, I think everyone can generally agree that the change in Afghanistan has been a positive one.

Somalia is a different story all together. As far as I know, the Taliban wasn't actively promoting the starvation of its own people. It may not have been cooperative with foreign aid per se, but they were not banning them outright, or invading their offices and stealing their resources. Clinton may have effed up the first attempt to right the situation in Somalia, but in my opinion he had the right motivations at heart. Something still needs to be done there, and the world has been scarred by a military disaster and movies made about it there. Nobody wants to get their hands dirty, instead we'd rather their people flee the country to the tune of 10% of their entire population, trying to find a safe existence elsewhere (name Kenya - recent census results here were never released due to suspicions that there may be more Somalis now in many parts of Kenya than actual Kenyans).

The greater problem with Somalia, as far as I can tell, is sadly that it doesn't sit on any estimable natural resources / assets that the western world would have a serious interest in. We've seen only too starkly the opposite case in Afghanistan and to a much greater extent Iraq. I am appalled at any western political leader who would even begin to express moral platitudes supporting western presence in either of the latter countries to topple any oppressive regime, when the situation in Somalia remains as it is. The country is relatively *tiny* and the oppression is relatively *massive* - let's call a spade a spade.

Kenya is home to more than half a million refugees and there is an obvious need to know who is who. But the time it takes is agonising. The delay can be weeks.


Allow me to tell you about Sammie. Sammie is s Somali refugee in Kenya that can't use his real name for fear of people finding him. He's been in the country for a couple of years now, after escaping Somalia on foot. Sammie had not been a sufficiently practicing Muslim, and as such was targeted by Al Shabab whilst he and his family were still in Somalia. That meant 2 things for Sammie: first, they cut off one of his legs so that escape would be harder if not impossible. Then they kidnapped his son and pro-scripted him into their militia. Sammie was later informed that his son had died in a conflict. He fled with the rest of his family to Kenya, where local Somalis loyal to Al Shabab continue to target him with death threats. He heard news that his son was not dead but instead being trained by Al Shabab in their radical Muslim tradition. Not long after that, the prosthetic leg Sammie had was stolen from him. He was provided with a replacement by a humanitarian organization, but it was a used prosthetic from someone much taller than him, and so Sammie now walks with a terrible limp. He moves his family every 2-3 weeks between different cities in Kenya while he continues to seek assistance from UNHCR, to try to keep them safe.

I only know about Sammie because my wife works with an organization that is trying to facilitate his case file with UNHCR. Because Sammie can't safely reside in Nairobi, or even stand in line outside their offices for an appointment, she takes the most recent updates (police reports, etc.) to UNHCR on his behalf. They've been kind enough to sit with her and tell her that while Sammie's is a legitimate case, it is one of tens if not hundreds of thousands of similar ones they are dealing with. How would any one case ever gain priority over another in this situation?

Sammie's story, just like the greater problems in the Horn of Africa, also, sadly, isn't news.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Thanks so much for posting this. I have family in southern Ethiopia, and this is all just so heartbreaking--and yet hardly covered at all in the western media.

Here's the US government response, for those interested.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:40 AM on July 28, 2011


Shit's fucked up. It sickens me that I've been a willing participant, over the past few days, in at least a dozen conversations about the massacre by Julian Sands guy, or Amy Winehouse, or fucking Hugh Grant's phone messages, and barely spoken a word about this.

I wonder if Obama will be writing a poetic note to these thousands of Somali kids that are dying, offering to do all he can and stand by them all the way.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:46 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


dontjumplarry: "It sickens me that I've been a willing participant, over the past few days, in at least a dozen conversations about the massacre by Julian Sands guy, or Amy Winehouse, or fucking Hugh Grant's phone messages, and barely spoken a word about this."

If I hadn't bookmarked the Atlantic site and look at it daily I wonder how long it would have been before I'd heard of this crisis.

It gutted me, and certainly put things into perspective really damned quick.

It is not my intention to moderate this thread; my sincere hope was that by getting the word out on MetaFilter a positive impact would ripple outwards fast.
posted by bwg at 2:27 AM on July 28, 2011


Thank you, bwg. This needs to be shared and discussed everywhere.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2011


Damnit. Reading about Sammie's situation makes me sick. Just... this one track minded obsession with harassing this guy because he's not sufficiently of your religion? To the point that he can't even be safe in a whole other country? And forcing his son to fight your wars and then having that son killed and... Just ugh.
posted by symbioid at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2011


It is not my intention to moderate this thread; my sincere hope was that by getting the word out on MetaFilter a positive impact would ripple outwards fast.

And yet so few comments compared to the really important stuff out there on the front page.
posted by wilful at 6:30 PM on July 28, 2011


wilful: "And yet so few comments compared to the really important stuff out there on the front page."

Yes, I was quite dejected about that too. It staggers me that the death of a singer draws hundreds of comments and this barely over 20.

A famine doesn't have the immediate impact of an earthquake or flooding, but it's more horrifying than either.
posted by bwg at 5:37 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and lest anyone chastise me for cheeky comments I've made in subsequent posts, sometimes you've got to laugh to prevent yourself from crying.
posted by bwg at 5:38 AM on July 29, 2011


The American Refugee Committee is a Minneapolis-based charity that is currently working hard in Somalia (there's a huge Somali population here in Minnesota). You can donate directly to their work in Somalia here.
posted by padraigin at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2011


Deleted thread with several different links
posted by jeffburdges at 6:37 PM on August 2, 2011


Yes, I will re-post my comment from that deleted thread:

Famine? How would we know ... it' s not trending on Twitter

We are the Whirled - Mark Fiore

I guess folks on mefi are ... distracted ...
posted by Surfurrus at 9:53 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember back in early 2000s, I think I saw an agitprop type image in probably Anarchy magazine, with a huge bloated stomach of a typical obese American (and yes, I am one of those Americans) and below that the image of the bloated stomach of a malnourished child to compare and contrasts the two. I can't find it easily on a cursory Google search, however.

I am reasonably confident that it's Adbusters circa 1998ish, but damned if I can find it either.

But anyway...to reiterate a comment from the deleted thread, Doctors Without Borders is always a great organization to give to, and they are working both in Somalia and at the Dadaab camp.
posted by naoko at 11:29 PM on August 2, 2011


U.S. Weapons Now in Somali Terrorists’ Hands
posted by homunculus at 11:37 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


"No Connection"

http://www.adbusters.org/content/no-connection-belly

One billion people are dying of starvation. Another billion are dying of excess."
posted by Surfurrus at 11:37 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep, that would be the one I was thinking of, Surfurrus. It's still very striking, wow.
posted by naoko at 12:17 AM on August 3, 2011


Hard to look at. Even the text fits. ... same as it ever was. Sigh.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:47 AM on August 3, 2011


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