Famine in the Horn of Africa

A crisis has arisen in the Horn of Africa – famine.  In the midst of conflict and fighting in a country with no real leadership, Somalia is experiencing a devastating drought and watching food prices rise.  Famine is the cruel outcome.

Tens of thousands of Somalis are dying, most of them children. This is a children’s famine, said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.

Last month, the United Nations declared famine in 2 regions of southern Somalia.  Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Malnutrition rates in Somalia are the highest in the world.

According to Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, in some parts of the south, more than 50% of all children are severely malnourished.  In the two regions of southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 per cent, with deaths among children under the age of five exceeding six per 10,000 per day in some areas.  The US estimates that in the last 90 days, more than 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died.

Somalis are leaving their country to escape fighting and find food.  Last month more than 11,000 people fled to Ethiopia and $8,600 to Kenya.  Along the way, mothers are making a “Sophie’s Choice” and abandoning their weak children on the way to save their other children.  Many children die in their mothers’ arms before they can find help.  Mothers cannot even feed their newborns as they cannot produce enough milk for their babies.

And even if they reach Ethiopia and Kenya, those countries too are experiencing many of the same harsh conditions.  Says Lake, across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, an estimated 2.3 million children are already acutely malnourished.  More recently, the Shabab Islamist insurgent group, has blocked starving people from fleeing the country.  Thus, this may is becoming a crisis the people of Somalia cannot escape.

I don’t know what is worse, the fact that this has happened before, that we’ve known this crisis was imminent for months, or that while these children starve, most of the rest of the world lives gluttonously in a world plentiful of food.

An article in the Washington Post reminds us that in 1992, hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death, prompting a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to intervene. Within months, the force was engaged in an intense operation to uproot Somali warlords. It eventually withdrew after 18 American soldiers were killed in a battle the following year, an incident portrayed in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

We often say that we should “never forget” yet so often we do.  How quickly our memories fade or are buried such that we allow the same travesties to happen time and time again.

The situation this time around has been building for months, yet neglected in the news until July when the UN officially declared famine.  The only thing that has changed is that more children are starving and the civil strife has intensified.  Now, the Red Cross, the World Food Bank, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other aid agencies struggle to get food to the starving both because there are so many and the danger involved.  In neglecting to recognize this crisis sooner, we delayed aid at the cost of lives.

Let us be mindful that Somalis are not the only ones starving.  Millions of children across the globe are starving.  The situation in the Horn of Africa is just the most dire/prominent.  We have a responsibility to each malnourished child who will suffer the effects from starvation perhaps throughout their lives.  They will not grow as tall as they should, their brains will have lacked the energy it needed to grow during this vulnerable stage, the organs will have been stressed to limits they should never have known compromising their future health.  In this time, children can’t be children.  They can’t learn or, literally, grow.  And so they won’t get the education they need, become the productive adults they could be.  The

And as we turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow men, women and children, we overindulge ourselves and waste food.  Food is not scarce in the world.  We do not have a food shortage.

The fact that this country, this region, these children are starving is abominable.  I am reminded of part of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop To Drink.”  We live in a world with so much to give, and yet we don’t help until a crisis arises.  Though the lack of rain, the drought, contributed to the food instability in the Horn of Africa, this is still a man-made disaster in the midst of horrible fighting in one country and the lack of aid from others.  Food is everywhere, yet so many haven’t a bite to eat.


Links of Interest and Sources:

UN Map of the Horn of Africa

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations

World Food Programme

World Bank


International Committee of the Red Cross


US Agency for International Development (USAID)

UN News Centre – UN Declares Famine In Two Regions of Southern Somalia

Reuters – Children abandoned on east Africa’s “roads of death”

New York Times – Somalis Waste Away as Insurgents Block Escape from Famine


6 Responses to Famine in the Horn of Africa

  1. Ron says:

    thanks for the reminder!

  2. Jenn says:

    Thanks for the post. A little sobering. I don’t know about you, but I remember the saying when I was a kid, “Eat everything on your plate, there are starving kids in Ethiopia.” That was about 25 years ago. I’m not sure much has changed though. I feel for those mothers, can’t imagine what it would be like to have to make the choice to choose your life and your children’s lives over your other child’s life.

    I think these people live a more “real” life than many of us live here. Close to the elements and with a greater understanding and acceptance of birth and death, the circle of life. It seems more natural and yet, I’m not sure I want to live like that.

  3. JJ says:

    And while these horrifying, urgent crises are happening in non-affluent countries, our leaders squabble over meaningless self-aggrandizement and political posturing…

  4. Tara says:

    Erin – Thanks for sharing and for your posts.

  5. MikeE says:

    “…or that while these children starve, most of the rest of the world lives gluttonously in a world plentiful of food.”

    Through most of the article you seem to get it right…Somolia is starving because of a security situation where a certain group of people (an extreme faction of muslims) have taken power and allowed an entire country to starve. What I don’t understand is why we should feel guilty. Yes America is gluttonous and I hate it, but that is unrelated to this situation. We are in no way causing their starvation and a statement like this is inane and ignorant. That statement may have been true for the food riots that took place a few years ago, because US subsidies on staple foods surely affected prices of their own local food those countries.
    However, in somolia a group has a stranglehold on imports, exports and even local people growing and producing food. This time it must be blamed on corrupt and totalitarian LOCAL leaders. When a situation like this arises it is nearly impossible to send Aid. Look what happened in Somolia in the 90’s. Local warlords took control and started selling the Aid to everyone and there was nothing the UN could do about it. whoever has the guns in a society like that and controls the food makes the other people starve. I will not give to a non profit that says they can help the Somali people becuase they are only lying to themselves. The security situation/totalitarian government must improve first. So you can’t guilt trip me into this one, sorry.

  6. […] believe that people are meant to be hurt.  I can’t believe that children are meant to starve to death or women abused.  I do think that when something happens, even though it’s not meant to be, […]

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