The East African Famine

For the first time in decades, the UN has officially declared that there is a famine afflicting several nations in East Africa, most severely Somalia, which is a failed state. Conditions are the worst in nearly 30 years, which says a lot about a region long bedeviled by war, civil strife, corruption, and grinding poverty. Many people are in a horrific state of anarchy, where survival of the fittest has taken hold – if it hadn’t already in some areas – and desperate measures are being taken for survival.  Scenes from the affected areas have appropriately been called a vision of hell, even by the miserable standards of such blighted places as arid Somalia, Ethiopia, and Northeast Kenya.

Adding hunger into the mix of the region’s numerous social pressures will no doubt heighten tensions and turn the region into more of a powder keg than it already is – unless the international community intervenes. But that sadly seems unlikely, or at least not likely to go far enough. Much of the world is still reeling from the global recession, and there’s been a subsequent growth in insularity and isolationism. The last thing anyone wants, especially in a country dealing with harsh austerity measures, is to pour millions into some far away foreign nation. Governments will be hard-pressed by spending cuts and public sentiment alike to give as much as will be needed to stave off mass death. A lot will be riding on combing their efforts together, and working with NGOs and other private aid groups.

What’s most tragic is how morbidly common all this is. Famine, disease, and poverty are each almost synonymous with Africa as far as most people are concerned. Indeed, they’re often the first images that come to mind, which doesn’t help the cause of humanitarian intervention: not only are people numb to it after all these years, but they’ve likely become cynical about what can really be accomplished, and whether we should even bother. I can sympathize with the pessimism to an extent – believe me, it often grips me as well – but I don’t think it excuses inaction at the cost of thousands, maybe even millions, of lives.

Even if it’s just a band-aid or a temporary fix, saving the lives that we can now is better than not bothering because we disregard it as just an inadequate and short-term solution. As always, I must appeal to empathy: if any of us were in such a desperate state of survival, would we not take whatever help we could get? Would we not prefer to live another day, even if it’s only just? I know most of my readers have probably already encountered such appeals to pathos, and are perhaps as numb to it as to the “starving children” photos. But deep down, each of us decent folks have some spark of empathy within us, some connection we have to one another that transcends linguistic, geographic, and cultural barriers. We must endeavor to tap into our humanity and do whatever we can to help.

Any donation to relevant aid groups (such as the UN Food Programme, which is highly active in the region),  a letter to a political representative urging action, or just the spreading of awareness can do something, anything, to help (especially if amplified through the works of more than one person). If time permits me later, as I have to depart, I’ll try to share some links and suggestions as to how to help. But don’t hesitate to do the research yourself and try your best to help your fellow human being. They should not be damned for having the misfortune of being born into the stark circumstances they’re in.

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