That’s an insult, particularly with reference to the American public.
Think such images don’t resonate? This is a time of food insecurity, albeit much less severe, in the United States as well. One in five children in New York City reportedly goes to bed hungry while excess food goes to landfills. The causes and consequences of hunger are complex, compound and context-specific—but the lack of solutions, whether here or in Somalia, isn’t the result of a dispassionate public. It’s a failure of leadership.
On July 20, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, waited for an assessment report to confirm that “acute malnutrition among children” had reached “shocking” levels of 30 to 50 percent (and that the crude death rate among children under five had risen to 6 per 10,000 children each day, and so on) in order to officially call for $300 million for famine relief from bureaucratic donors. It is hard to imagine that, until these statistics ticked in, Bowden was unaware of the warning signs of mass starvation in Somalia. The onset of this crisis has been reported by credible sources such as Mohammed Adow since way back in May 2007. That was two years after the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction launched the Hyogo Framework of Action to reduce disaster risk and build community resilience.
How far has such U.N. leadership gotten us? If I were a Somali mother arriving in Dadaab refugee camp last week with my child, a bundle of bones in my arms, I would have real trouble making sense of Bowden’s declaration of emergency at this late hour. Once assured that my child was triaged as worthy of “therapeutic feeding” with a good chance of recovery from near-death, my thoughts would wander back to my home – rural Somalia.
My family and friends and I struggled for years to become “food secure,” looking for pasture for our camels and goats. Hardly anything grows on the scorched earth that’s been burnt by warfare; the aerial bombing and heavy artillery have turned over the topsoil, obliterating its organic matter. We tried fertilizing small patches of land for growing vegetables without success. We sold livestock faster than we could replace them, as the price of millet and sorghum rose.
My new baby didn’t grow much after his first year, having survived on breast milk. I couldn’t produce enough milk for him, and he refused to take goat’s milk as a substitute. His appetite deteriorated as he suffered repeat bouts of diarrhea, fever and vomiting. A humanitarian aid worker delivered a large can of DMK (powdered milk), which my neighbors and I shared – everyone received some in a finjal, a small espresso-sized coffee cup. That’s how we live: sharing everything and helping each other overcome hunger and illness, a day at a time. We managed to survive the first year the rains failed. The second year was tougher. Left with only few livestock, not enough milk for the children, and certainly not enough money to buy cereals, we began to contemplate abandoning our homes.