Thursday, July 21, 2011

Famine in Somalia

The UN declared famine in two areas of Somalia today. It's hard to believe, that in the 21st century, such a situation can exist. Responding in Somalia is of course complicated by the lack of control of the Transitional Federal Government and the widespread presence of the terrorist organisation Al Shabaab. So preventing the famine from spreading will be extremely challenging for the humanitarian community, even with Al Shabaab's recent statement allowing access for muslim and non-muslim humanitarian organisations.

More money is needed: of the $1 billion needed by the UN to address the needs in East and the Horn of Africa, only $200 million has been "stumped up." What concerns me is the prevalence of 'starvation pornography' that has accompanied different agencies' appeals for this crisis. Katy Migiro has written an article for alertnet entitled "Starvation Pornography: how many skinny babies can you show me?" which accurately sums up how I feel. As signatories to the Red Cross Code of Conduct, NGOs commit to 10 principles, the last one being:
In our information, publicity and advertizing activities, we shall recognize disaster victims as dignified human beings, not hopeless objects.

Obviously, there are some not holding up their commitments. You may not remember, but I certainly do, that I did a story on Pakistan about malnutrition. I saw the 'skinny babies', I sat with their mothers, I held back the tears at the sight of such sick children. And I think it's despicable to try to raise money by using such images. 2.85 million people are affected by the food crisis in Somalia; yes, they are victims of war, of poverty, of starvation. But they are humans, with dignity and strength unimaginable to most of us - could you walk for 10-14 days, carrying your children with little food to eat, and avoid the wild animals and armed men along the way, only knowing that the situation in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, can't be worse than where you've left? I couldn't. But thousands of people are making that journey every day. And their suffering shouldn't be objectified.

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