Thursday, 7 July 2011

Food for thought ?

Post by Ash
Once again news has broken of human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale, this time in the horn of Africa. UNHCR and BBC reports amongst others, have described that as many as 10 million people are currently experiencing malnutrition and starvation, as a result of the combination of severe drought and fighting across this area.

It could be very easy to default to `compassion fatigue` as we are presented with yet more appalling images of Somali children in Kenyan refugee camps, dying in front of our eyes. We may not like what we see, but as we already give so much in austere times there`s a limit to our resources, and anyway, what can we do ? The problem in this area will never go away, and has little to do with us.

To say that Somalia is in turmoil is something of an understatement. Comprehending reasons, beyond the climatic, can prove unfathomable, particularly for those in the west. The following quote from a recent Guardian newspaper story on the country shows the confusion; `....the Islamist government of Sharif Ahmed is locked in an attritional struggle with Al-Shabab , a radical off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Movement, the alliance of tribal Sharia courts which once controlled most of southern Somalia. The government is also under attack from Hizb Al-Islam, a Somali franchise of Alqaida...'

Not the easiest of explanations to western eyes. Being charitable in such trying circumstances, it might therefore be thought, would be wasteful or worse still, counter-productive.

Yet even the briefest resume of the history of Somalia would place this civil war raging since 1991, within something of a continuum-after all, the land has been fought over (and some would say exploited) variously for centuries, by both middle-eastern and western powers.Some would argue that the European creation of national boundaries in the late nineteenth century exacerbated tribal and religious differences.Even today, we learn of US and UK `drone` activities within the country, in the `fight against terrorism`. So like it or not, western fingerprints, amongst others, are arguably to be found within the seeds of this crisis. Put bluntly then ,even if we cannot be convinced on a human level of the need for aid and charitable donation, perhaps we can consider a historical responsibility and a current (anti-terrorism) `self-interest` ?

Whatever our stance, whatever the reasons for the suffering, unless money is urgently made available for those best placed to support in this tragedy, thousands of people, the majority of them children, are likely to die within the next few weeks. Our own contributions can therefore help provide short-term relief to such intolerable human suffering. And maybe our watchfulness,prayer, and petitioning can subsequently go some way to alleviate an apparently intractable problem. Surely we can but try ?

There are many sites for those who may be considering donations, for example;


  1. The current issues have less to do with the civil war in Somalia and more about a more basic substance: water. The land in this region is semi-arid and highly dependent on seasonal rainfall. The seasonal rains have failed for the past two years and there is drought. The crops have failed and animals have died, leading to famine. The refugees, who have fled the region, desperately need places with clean water and rehydration kits.

    The situation, of course, is a lot more complex than this. For example, the people of this region are generally nomadic and follow the rains with their herds. With the frontiers imposed on Africa during the colonial period, migrating beyond the borders of Somalia is difficult.

    In addition, there's the elephant in the room that no-one wants to tackle. There are just too many people for the region to support comfortably. Like most regions of the world, the local environment is struggling, and the situation is likely to get worse as time goes on and we head toward the global 9 billion mark, estimated around 2050.

    In many areas of Africa, aquifers that take hundreds of years to fill are being used to provide clean water. They are being emptied faster than they replenish and, hence, are as finite a resource as oil - at least in the medium term.

    Unfortunately, I can forecast similar situations hitting the poorer regions of the world more frequently as we continue to put pressure on our already struggling planet. I am not confident that we will find technological solutions to this problem, and I'm not confident that world leaders are even willing to recognise that there is a population crisis to tackle. Instead, more of the same will occur ... more intensive farming, more genetic modification of crops, more water and irrigation, more chemical fertilisers to try and get the most out of ever more impoverished soils.

    Of course, the options facing these people right now are bleak ones. Compassion dictates that we act to lessen their hardship and to try and reduce their suffering. Act to lessen the suffering in the short term, and continue to hope for longer term thinking in our leaders.

  2. I do wonder at the native population of the mighty continent of Africa. Did they suffer these problems before the arrival of the white man ??

    If so, how did they cope without the charitable aid supplied by the so called 'developed nations' of the West.

    Has the arrival of 'civilisation'destroyed their ability to be self-sufficient ??

    Is there a parallel between the African peoples and those of the UK, where cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow have many citizens who have lost the ability to live without support from the government ??

    The Victorian 'Work Ethic' was in its day very commendable, but we are now living in a post industrial era where there will never again be enough jobs to enable people to stand on their own two feet.

    Ian is right when he talks about excessive population growth as the root cause.

    The UK is an island which is maybe a microcosm of the world at large. Population growth has to curtailed before we can return to economic stability.

  3. A recent World Bank Report puts the problem down to man-made factors; manipulated and artificially high grain prices, and civil war.