This post will be somewhat out of character for me, since it’s more about politics and humanitarianism than about religion and the fun abuses associated with that. I am sticking my neck out a bit here, since this isn’t my strong suit. Please do not interpret that as a plea for clemency – I am hoping that those of you with a better grasp on international affairs will point out my errors.
There is currently a famine happening in Somalia. The word ‘famine’, like the word ‘epidemic’, has a very specific meaning:
Famine: regional failure of food production or supply, sufficient to cause a marked increase in disease and mortality due to severe lack of nutrition and necessitating emergency intervention, usually at an international level.
Note that it does not simply mean widespread hunger – Somalia (and indeed, many parts of Africa) have been experiencing that for decades now. I am intentionally avoiding talking about why that is here, but stop me in a hallway or something and ask me if you’re curious – I have a nice long rant saved up (long story short: the fault doesn’t lie in Africa). Famine means not only an inability to access food, but the complete failure of the mechanisms by which food is obtained and distributed. It is a guarantee of future hunger, with no immediate apparent domestic remedy. The World Health Organization does not throw this term around lightly, because it is an absolute disaster when it happens.
It is happening, right now, in Somalia.
When there was a disaster in Japan, the international community rallied and provided aid and support. When there was a disaster in Haiti, there was a strong response from the rest of the world. When there was a disaster in Indonesia, we rallied the troops to provide assistance.
When there is a disaster in Somalia, the response from the world has been, collectively, ‘meh’:
As humanitarian organizations ramp up relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, Canadian charities say more help is needed — fast. But they add that Canadians aren’t opening their wallets to donate to the cause. The region is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. The United Nations says tens of thousands of people have already died in Somalia from causes related to malnutrition and more than 10.7 million people in East Africa have been affected. The Canadian government has contributed about $22 million in humanitarian assistance to the region this year, but the UN says at least $300 million is needed in the next two months to stop the spread of famine.
It’s important to note in the above paragraph that the efforts right now are to stop the spread of famine – the problem is getting worse. Above and beyond the issue of spread, though, is the humanitarian crisis this famine is creating. People that are starving to death aren’t usually content to sit still and wait for slow, creeping, approaching death. They move to wherever they can find relief. The kind of mass exodus of people from Somalia is going to cause massive destabilization (to say nothing of the health catastrophes seen in refugee camps) in a region that is already stretched to the limit of toleration. Should this famine go unchecked, it could be the beginning of a complete destruction of that region.
And here’s the thing: it’s totally within the compass of world governments to do something:
But here is where I sympathize with all those frustrated to the point of almost throwing up their hands. I certainly don’t blame the humanitarian workers trying to shake us out of our lethargy, nor the many victims of the drought, the small farmers and pastoralists who stand to be wiped out.
My anger is aimed primarily at governments who aren’t doing their jobs and who should have been anticipating a crisis such as this. What we are witnessing now in the Horn of Africa is global mismanagement on an astonishing scale. It is mismanagement not just for reasons of human empathy, but for allowing natural catastrophes to spread into ever widening waves of environmental decay, homelessness, disease and civil strife.
You’ve all heard the aphorisms: “a stitch in time saves nine”, “a penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This is one of those cases where failing to act in a timely way won’t just prolong human suffering (about which, I suppose, governments can afford not to care), but result in major problems down the road. Destabilization and refugee crises lead to closed borders, which leads to international enmity, which leads to war (which leads to more refugees, but let’s not go there). Canada, like it or not, has a real fiduciary and security interest in seeing stable world governments and long-term peace. We’re already starting to have to deal with the consequences of civil strife in Sri Lanka – imagine what happens when boatloads of African refugees begin arriving on our shores and the shores of our allies and friends.
There’s something else to remember in all of this, and it relates more to the mission of this blog. Islamic fundamentalism is currently running rampant in Somalia. Education is essentially nil, and crisis is high. As a result (or maybe as a cause), we have a theocratic junta with an iron grip making recovery more difficult. The refugees from a country like this are the product of the tender loving care of such a regime. The crisis therefore takes on a religious dimension (although there has been little to no response from the Arab League). Adding religion to the mix of ingredients we already have likely makes this a much bigger problem than the simple fact of famine, as it that wasn’t enough.
So even if you don’t buy the hippy-dippy “human suffering” and “think of the children” arguments usually put forward to elicit aid in times of great human need, you’ve got to realize that this is a crisis that effects you personally. If we act now, we can put the genie back in the bottle – if we wait too long, then we’re all going to have a much bigger problem on our hands. A problem we may not be able to solve.
I have written my Member of Parliament and donated to humanitarian efforts there. While I cannot dictate what is right and wrong here, I will urge you to do what you can before this gets more out of hand than it already is.