28 October 2011

A crisis that the world is ignoring

Long ago when I was still competing on the Public Speaking circuit in High School, they taught us that one way to grab an audience’s attention was to start with startling statistics. Well here they are:
The United Nations has estimated that 750 000 people will die within the next three months in Somalia due to the on-going famine. That is almost the same number of people dead as the total number of casualties in Iraq over the past ten years.
Already over 29 000 children under the age of five have died since the beginning of the year. In terms of September 11 casualties, that is the equivalent of eighteen planes crashing into nine twin towers full of five year old children.
For the situation to be classified as a famine in the first place, at least two people out of every ten thousand people are dying. Of hunger. Every single day.
Have I grabbed your attention enough? Have I startled you enough to want to continue reading? Please say yes because the very act of typing these figures is traumatic enough. I am sure you’ve seen the images on the evening news, on your Home page as you log into Facebook every sixteen minutes. A tweet here or there might have pierced your consciousness, tended on the few drops of pity that came dripping out and been relegated to the constant flow of news that we are subjected to. That was my reaction, a reaction born of having lived with these images on TV since I was as young as I can remember. Surely someone, somewhere is doing something about it, I told myself.
Unfortunately a Time Magaezine article broke through the bubble of my comfortable existence. According to Time Magazine, the United Nations remains fatally short by almost $700 million dollars of the $2.4 billion needed to feed the starving. Of the fifty five sitting heads of state in Africa, only four bothered to turn up to a summit convened to discuss the crisis in Somalia. And Africa’s richest nation, South Africa, has so far put forward $1.2 million to the cause, Nigeria’s pledge is still nowhere to be seen and the rest of the African continent is religiously mute on the subject of action.
What makes it intolerable, what makes it almost a crime against each and every one of those children whose sunset today might have been their last as they faced a night filled with the noise of the steady declines of their bodies, is that for decades now, Africa (seemingly led by Julius Malema) has been screaming; “African solutions for African problems”. Any attempt at interference by Western governments be it in politics, or religion, or human rights is met with the refrain of this song. ‘Leave us alone’, they say, ‘we are no longer your colonies’. ‘We can handle our own problems’. I pass no judgement on the wisdom, or lack of it, of this attitude, this is not the time to talk politics.
And yet, the time has come when a humanitarian disaster is unravelling in the plains of the Somali landscape, and the powers that be in the Halls of our continents buildings of power, have turned their gaze firmly elsewhere. Libya, has been an example of the African Union kicking itself into overdrive, countless heads of state climbing their presidential jets to “mediate” a solution to the crisis that ended with what the Libyan people had been asking for all along. Again, my argument here is not about the rightness or wrongness of what has happened in Libya over the past few days (let us leave that discussion for another night). My argument is in fact not about what has been done, so much as what has been left undone for the people of the Horn of Africa.
A few more statistics. The United States of America, has so far poured $593 million (this year alone) and the EU, beset as it was by a crippling financial crisis, is the second largest donor with $267 million.
“We as Africans have to get out of this situation of sitting back and waiting for people to fly here from far away to solve our problems,” said Nicanor Sabula of the East African Civil Society Forum ahead of the African Union Summit which failed to raise the $30 million target it had set for itself.
And if it seems that my disappointment lies with the African continent exclusively, I am sorry to disappoint in kind. Over the past few months the world has been shown nothing but the images of the recent revolution in Libya that the people of Libya started. Over the past few days the media has been saturated with images of Nicolas Sarkozy walking into fabulously opulent halls to discuss how to get Greece out of a debt that Greece created. A global movement has been started that aims to ‘Occupy’ the financial markets that until recently the citizens of those countries benefited from. I aim not to belittle each of these events, historic in their scale, but to show that in comparison, very little is being said about the citizens of a country who woke up to find that the rain refused to fall from the heavens through no fault of their own.
Long ago, in the innocent days of High School they taught us that a good writer would close with a conclusion that showed that the issues one had posed had a logical end, a termination of the train of thought. Dear reader, accept my apologies I have no conclusion for you. I leave it to you to ask yourself what it means to be an African, what it means to declare that you will solve your own problems and then back down when an actual problem does appear. And for the African and non-African alike, I leave you to ask yourself the question: Are we really going to let a quarter of a million people starve to death? It is not enough to click like on Facebook photo’s, it is not enough to create hash-tags on Twitter, or tut pityingly over the photos that we see on CNN. What is it that you are going to do to save at least just one, only one, of those your fellow human beings.
(Caption Image: The Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Kevin Carter taken in Sudan of a girl being trailed by a vulture waiting for her to die.)
**Click here for a stark and haunting photo essay by Time Magazine
UPDATE: There are many ways you can get involved, either as an individual or as a group. Many NGO's have branches worldwide, visit this page for a list of NGO's working in the Horn of Africa. To multiply the effect of your donation, consider holding a fundraiser (click here for some creative ideas) in your community. For those living in South Africa, Médicine Sans Frontières Supports direct cash deposits.


  1. it is so sad that 'people' in this world of today would rather spend billions to start wars, yet fail to have the conscience of atleast spending 1 billion to saving these innocent lives. It really leaves the question of what has happened to 'humanity' that differenciates us from animals? Not providing help to these people in the horn of Africa, for whatever reasons, should be considered as the collapse of all humanity to each and every 'person' with conscience. This is when the goodness (or the little left of it) of mankind is being called upon regardless of the political, racial, religious differences

  2. I can express the grief in my heart all day long but i know that wouldnt change anything but what i wil do is i will lead and do something about this because long have people seen this and done nothing its like seeing a movie on tv evrytime they tune to watch the evening news. Even if the change is small i know it will make a difference. The best gift in life is to be selfless and then only do we love.