A forgotten crisis

Female Somali student in blue holding a plate of food, smiling at someone off camera
Aid workers provide a ten year old student with a hot meal as part of a school meal provided by UN World Food Program (WFP) to the Mohamed Moge Primary School in Hargeisa, Somalia on April 4, 2017. Source: USAID on Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0.

“Famine is at the door, and today we are receiving a final warning.”

Martin Griffiths
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are suffering the effects of the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa region in 40 years. Crops are decimated. Livestock have perished. Climate change, the war on Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic are all critical ingredients to this tragic recipe.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated the quote above about the famine crisis in Somalia on Sept. 5, Labor Day here in the United States. He went on to say, “I repeat: This is a final warning to all of us.”

Famines are entirely preventable.

Famine refers to an extreme deprivation of food. At the point when a famine is “declared,” 30% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Two people per 10,000 people die every day of starvation. Millions of people in the Horn of Africa are already facing starvation. Twenty-two million, to be precise.

Early warning systems, such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, exist to identify problems well before crisis levels. My research of famines began twenty years ago as a graduate student, where I learned that famines result from a lack of political will and an unwillingness to act.

As we said on a CDP webinar back in 2017, “Hunger is one of the world’s most solvable problems.”

Why is the famine raising only the scantest media attention in the United States?

I have endeavored to be patient with my beloved news outlets. I have sought to understand that the pandemic, the War on Ukraine, disaster events here stateside, the January 6 committee hearings, and midterm elections, among other newsworthy events, overwhelmed coverage of the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. My patience has run thin.

The New York Times has written about the famine in Somalia four times since June 14. While NPR covered Kenya’s presidential election with great care and detail, there has been no discussion of food shortages, famine or starvation in its Kenya coverage. A simple search of “Ethiopia” in the Washington Post revealed no mention of food insecurity across the country.

I will commend The New Humanitarian and Reliefweb (an information hub for the United Nations) for its commitment to reporting on the needs of each country. Major media outlets have treated the topic of the global food crisis stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the associated grain crisis. Still, the call to action has yet to include the public.

Griffiths closed his remarks saying, “But at the moment today, we are in the last minute of the eleventh hour to save lives. The clock is running, and it will soon run out.” I’ll echo his call to action by simply saying that inaction on the part of philanthropy is unthinkable.

The time is now to reach out to your grantee partners. Invest in them. Invest in the Horn of Africa and help stem the tide of this global hunger crisis.