Forgetting Famine

I find it intriguing what we forget.  Only two months ago the news was reporting on the famine in the Horn of Africa.  Yet today the news is silent while the crisis continues, and expands.  Yemen and North Korea are experiencing food crises as well.  How can we forget famine?

I understand that forgetting can be protective.  Constantly hearing about disasters can create compassion fatigue.  Yet, forgetting doesn’t mean the problems are resolved.  While it is difficult to hear of disasters, we must try to remember how much more difficult it is for those suffering and push beyond our boundaries of comfort to help them.  Forgetting is easy, remembering, recognizing, and taking action takes courage and compassion.

Severely malnourished children are 9 times more likely to die from infectious diseases such as measles, cholera and malaria than healthy children.  They are vulnerable to diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections that can be fatal.  And malnutrition can cause stunting and impair cognitive development.  We know these effects, we know how serious they are, we know that no child deserves to suffer from malnutrition, we know there is enough food in the world to feed them.  Yet we forget to recognize the crises.  We hear about it once, give to the cause (which tremendously helped the Somalians at that time), and then forget – turn a blind eye.

The response to Somalia’s crisis this summer was substantial, resulting in:

  • Almost 10,000 metric tonnes of life-saving UNICEF supplies delivered to the Horn of Africa by air, land and sea routes,
  • 108,000 severely malnourished children treated through therapeutic feeding centres,
  • 1.2 million children vaccinated against measles,
  • 2.2 million people provided with access to safe water and
  • 48,000 children with access to child-friendly spaces or other safe environments.

But last month, UNICEF reported that thousands of children already died from famine with 320,000 children facing death from severe malnutrition.  At least 13.3 million people still need help.

Yemen is also experiencing significant political distress, making it difficult for many to afford food, according to the United Nations.  About 40% of Yemenis live on less than $2 a day.  And, according to UNICEF, even before this crisis arose, Yemen has the world’s second highest malnutrition rate after Afghanistan with over 50% of children under the age of 5 suffering.  And unfortunately, Yemen is dependent on food imports as only 2.5% of its land is arable so Yemenis cannot meet their food needs without help – they need us.  But we’ve forgotten about food shortages.  It’s not in the news like it was this summer, so we don’t think about it.

In North Korea, one in five children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition with about 11,400 children dying each year before their 5th birthday.  This has only gotten worse since the US and South Korea suspended food assistance over North Korea’s nuclear program in 2008.  It was not so long ago that a famine in North Korea killed about 1 million people.  How can we have already forgotten this?

Malnutrition is everywhere.  As we reach a world population of 7 billion, we know that 1 in 7 children in are hungry.  There are floods in Central America and Southeast Asia. Prices for food in Nepal are too high.

Years ago, I visited an orphanage in Bosnia.  While there I wrote in my journal the following:

All my life I’ve been taught not to forget the Holocaust lest it happen again.  In Bosnia I was reading “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” about the Rwandan genocide.  At the same time I was learning about Bosnia and contemplating the recent events in the Middle East.  I can’t help feeling that we’ve betrayed this notion of not forgetting.  We did forget.  We forget every day and continue to allow such incredible atrocities to happen over and over again.  In the end, what is the point of not forgetting if we choose not to recognize the same when it happens time and again?

Never forget?  Forgetting doesn’t apply just to holocausts and wars, it applies to famine and malnutrition.  The crisis Somalia faces was brought to our attention this summer, but after the news media stopped reporting on the emergency food shortage, we forgot that the problem was not resolved.  Not only is it not resolved, it’s getting worse.

The upcoming holidays are a time when we sit around the table and give thanks.  We eat until we are stuffed while others go hungry.  Let us be grateful for the food we have.  But let us not forget those who have nothing whether they are in Somalia, Yemen, North Korea, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nepal, or even in your own city.


See also these articles by Reuters:


One Response to Forgetting Famine

  1. Learn about the From Hunger for Hope Movement at supporting the World Food Programme.

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