Hungry for Survival

28 Jul

WHEN I was growing up, there was a massive famine in Ethiopia. It lasted from 1984 to 1985 and was likely over by the time we were old enough to understand them, but politically incorrect jokes was how we learned about hunger in the Horn of Africa.

“How many Ethiopians can fit in a phone booth?” went one. The answer: “All of them.”

“Have you ever tasted Ethiopian food?” went another. “Neither have they,” was the punch line.

Somehow, in our juvenile, uncomprehending minds, people starving to death were good for a laugh. It’s not funny anymore. Somalia is in the grips of a frightening famine, and its people are fleeing — 1300 a day — across the border to Kenya, to a swelling refugee camp that was built to accommodate 90,000 people and now struggles to hold 400,000. It is the biggest refugee camp in the world, and the hungry are still coming.

Oxfam Ambassador Kristin Davis visits Dadaab refugee camp

Oxfam Ambassador Kristin Davis visits Dadaab refugee camp

The United Nations declared a famine in two regions of Somalia last week, but has still to airlift food into the country. The Islamists who control the territory have banned the World Food Programme. Meanwhile, the Somali Foreign Minister has said that 3.5 million people may “starve to death” in his country if the world does nothing.

I remember the homeless beggar children on the streets of Mumbai, where I grew up, and their distended bellies and hands stretched out for money or food, and I know that I do not understand the true meaning of the word “hunger.”

This Washington Post article on the famine paints a chilling picture:

Xukun Muhumed walked more than 130 miles to seek help for her thin baby, sickened by hunger. As she trudged slowly across the bleak landscape, choked by famine and drought, she wondered whether her infant son, Sadik, would survive.

“If Allah wants him to die, he will die,” said Muhumed, her voice dropping. “I have seen many people who have died along the way.”

“These are becoming roads of death,” Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told reporters in Nairobi over the weekend.

And yet aid from the rest of the world has yet to flow in. According to the Post:

Aid agencies have been sounding the alarm for months, but funding from the United States and other Western donors is several hundred million dollars short of what is needed. At the Dollo Ado refu­gee camp in Ethiopia, where many of the displaced in Dolo were heading, an additional 13,000 tents are needed to meet the fresh influx, said the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Meanwhile, aid agencies are struggling to keep the flood of refugees from overwhelming neighboring countries. The World Food Program is planning to open new feeding sites in Dolo by the end of the week, but that could be too late for infants such as Sadik, whose bodies have swiftly deteriorated after their long journeys.

The famine is not limited to Somalia, though that country is the worst affected. It has also hit Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Western countries may be dragging their feet, but we don’t have to. Médecins sans Frontières has feeding centers already on the ground and they have plans to expand them. Donate here.

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