What would you do if you looked out your front window and saw the child next door – the child who was once a healthy, energetic 11-year-old – search the bushes for insects to feed his youngest sister?
What would you do if you knew that once a fortnight the boy walked his sister almost 10km to a health centre for help? Or if you knew, as the children became thinner and thinner, that their desperate father was about to leave them to search for work in the city?
What if the father was considering selling a seven-year-old into marriage because he could no longer afford to feed her, and needed the payment to feed the rest of his family?
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Millions of human lives are at risk. Again. Another famine looms in Africa, this time in the continent’s West. Countries of the Sahel region, including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Africa’s smallest nation, The Gambia, are in the midst of a developing food crisis.
Their people are beginning to die.
Sadly, it’s a tired tale. African famines have haunted our headlines for decades, and they’re still coming hard and fast. Just last year we saw thousands of lives lost in East Africa, and too few saved when the developed world and its aid agencies dashed in to save them from a famine that was already well-established.
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For at least the fourth time since the “Band Aid” famine of the 1980s , the beleaguered citizens of the Horn of Africa endured famine, as a result of ongoing drought, desertification and civil strife.
Refugee camps in northern Kenya swelled massively, the Dadaab camp bursting with half a million people. As the crisis unfolded, a British newspaper warned that if the West failed to act appropriately, it would be as complicit as the warlords exacerbating the situation in Africa.
What happened next
The West did indeed open its pockets. The UK government’s initial AID package was the equivalent of $60 million. By the first week of December, Australians had donated $12.7 million, and the government matched the donations under their dollar-for-dollar aid scheme. The crisis continues.
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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.
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Once again Africa is gripped by a catastrophic famine. As developed countries and NGOs scramble to mobilise aid, we are told incomprehensible numbers of people face a ghastly death by starvation, including hundreds of thousands of children.
It can make you despair. Sometimes we feel like turning away, we seem so powerless and the problems so entrenched and repetitive. Giving money can feel pointless; commercial TV news hardly mentions the crisis, guessing it will have viewers reaching for the remote control.
But there’s another story about Africa many Australians might find very surprising.
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A lot of people, when they look at pictures on the television about the unfolding famine in Somalia, say “we’ve seen it all before. What’s different about this one? And why haven’t they fixed it up by now?”
I understand some of the cynicism but if you have been to this region as I have just been, you cannot be indifferent to what is happening there. This is the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years.
Famine has been declared in a significant slice of Somalia and by Christmas it is anticipated that the famine will extend to the southern half of the entire country.
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A couple of weeks ago Ant Sharwood gave me a call and started talking about the Horn of Africa. He was pretty fired up, and talking about various types of excrement hitting various types of oscillating devices.
I was pretty distracted. There’d been a lot going on. That tax thing had just been announced, sharia law was in the news – you know, all the hot button stuff. Africa was not in the news. Well, it was, but back in the World section, the bit you don’t always manage to get to. That’s the hollow ring of self justification you can hear there, folks.
Anyhoo, Ant wrote this great piece. And he was right. The shit has really hit the fan, and it was a terrible surprise for many who probably should have seen it coming. Should have seen it coming for not just years, but decades.
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It is 27 years since a bunch of do-gooding musicians, led by Bob Geldof, banded together to alert the world to a North African famine. We need more than a Band Aid solution this time.
Since the 1984 famine, the so-called “horn” of Africa – which includes Somalia, Ethiopia, the tiny nation of Djibouti and northern Kenya – has had several crippling droughts which have led to famines. The last really bad one was in 2006. But there were several between then and the Band Aid era.
And now, the curse of famine is descending upon the region again, due to a combination of the usual suspects of drought, desertification, crop failure and military conflicts. Early estimates suggest that 10 million people are at risk of starvation.
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What time is it in the world? When U2 launched the Australian leg of their 360 tour last week in Melbourne, this seemingly nonsensical question was repeated and alluded to throughout the show.
As the apparent motif of their tour, the question begs consideration.
Over the years U2 have consistently encouraged their fans to develop a political and social consciousness, in stark contrast to the spiritual vacuity promoted by most mainstream musicians.
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Europe granted £1.8 million in emergency aid to Ethiopia today in 1984. One million people were believed to have died in the famine of that year and aid workers described the situation as “hell on earth”.
And it’s Monday so what’s on your mind? Share it here.
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