Won’t someone, please, think of the African children
Neuroscientists have found that over 80 per cent of calories that newborns ingest fuel their brains. The colossal statistic accounts for how rapidly the young brain grows and develops.
It paints us a new picture of malnutrition. It tells us that babies caught up in the developing famine in East Africa will almost certainly suffer starvation-induced damage that will have long-term developmental effects on their minds.
Babies are arriving in field hospitals in Dadaab, Kenya, too weak to cry. Many weigh a third of what they should.
It’s difficult to realise that they are lucky even making it to Dadaab - the largest refugee camp in the world, holding an astonishing 400,000 people. The journey for Somalians is weeks long, with many women giving birth along the treacherous, foodless trek. The health implications for newborns born into such circumstances are disastrous.
Media coverage of poverty, civil war, and helplessness portrays only one part of modern Africa - and it betrays the very real progress and increasing stability that the region is enjoying.
Long-term growth will continue by encouraging initiative and creating wealth and profitability in Africa’s hard-working and oft-entrepreneurial citizens. Kenya, buoyed by a five per cent economic growth in the past year, recently opened its first KFC franchise.
It would be irresponsible, however, to ignore the immediacy and urgency of this crisis.
News outlets have reported that 10 per cent of Somali children under five will die by November. UNICEF - the United Nations Children’s Fund - estimates that across Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, 600,000 children are suffering acute malnutrition and are on the brink of death.
And so, that familiar cry of “Who will save Africa?” emanates again.
A star-studded Geldofian intervention certainly doesn’t seem forthcoming. (And frankly, I could do without seeing Bob Geldof squeeze into black denim to croak “I Don’t Like Mondays” for the umpteenth time.)
We can’t rely on musicians and media to craft a grand narrative for this crisis. It’s not sexy. It’s a slow burning, gradual onset disaster that has put 12 million people in very real danger.
My heart broke for the Morcombes when further details of Daniel’s disappearance emerged over the weekend. It is a horrible loss. And it’s personal stories that tell the human tragedy of East Africa’s famine.
Horrific stories are emerging of distraught mothers telling social workers of being forced to leave weaker, younger children behind or families starting their journey to Dadaab with four children and having only two by the time they reach the camp 25 days later. There are many more, and not enough newspaper inches to print them.
Tireless advocacy and emergency workers endure thankless and demanding work during these catastrophes. UNICEF is one of only two aid agencies able to access Baidoa, an Al Shabab controlled area of Southern Somalia, which is riddled with danger and instability from hostile local militia. Aid workers are overworked and under-resourced: thousands of new refugees are entering camps each day.
UNICEF Australia has seen the generosity of Australians once again but substantial funding gaps remain. The UN recently declared a shortfall of over a billion dollars in donations.
Some reports suggest the past 90 days of famine have already killed over 29,000 Somali children. Scores more are dying each day.
The rainy season will come in October, and with it outbreaks of malaria, cholera and typhoid will surge, proving this is more than just a food crisis - it is a crisis for child survival.
There are huge strides still to be taken in preventing future catastrophes. But, for now, with 12 million lives at stake, we must agree to agree.
Donations to UNICEF’s East Africa Emergency Appeal can be made at www.unicef.org.au or by calling 1300 884 233.
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