Chronicle of 750,000 Deaths Foretold
By Shadi Bushra, published November, 2011
Many wonder why the famine in the Horn of Africa was not predicted by our billions of dollars of weather satellites and climate models. In short, famine is not a climatological phenomenon, but a socioeconomic one. The weather part – drought – was easily predicted. And given the fragile political and economic situation in the region, the famine could have been predicted, prepared for, and prevented.
Instead, the countries affected and the international community are playing a losing game of catch-up. Relief agencies state they need $2.4 billion, of which only $1.7 billion has ben raised. While certainly no pittance in the midst of a global recession, the shortcoming should be measured in human lives rather than dollars, with the UN warning that the death toll may top out at 750,000 dead.
Over 13 million people are in need of assistance in the Horn. At the moment, the death rate is 7.4 per 10,000 per day. Do the math: that’s 176 deaths every day. Death in the slowest, most painful fashion imagineable. But for children, the death rate is even greater, topping out at 15.3 per 10,000 per day.
There is plenty of blame to go around for this catastrophe. Al Shabab, which controls vast swaths of Somalia, refused to allow aid agencies to operate in their territory without a hefty tax. La Niña and the effects of climate change caused drier conditions this year. The political chaos in Kenya, the political repression in Ethiopia, and the lack of political space in Somalia all slowed government responses.
Some have noted that parts of Kenya had a bumper harvest this year. But skyrocketing global food prices (tripling the price of staples such as sorghum in Somalia or maize in Kenya) caused people to hoard what food was available, causing shortages even where rainfall was plentiful.
Yet this could have been prevented. Officials in the UN’s Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have been sending out famine warnings since last year. But governments often believe relief agencies are over-playing the risk of an emergency for their own reasons – until it happens. Oxfam accused European government’s of “willful neglect” in their response to the crisis.
The global humanitarian system is based on responding to, not preventing crises. It is as much a money argument as a moral one: The UN estimates that every $1 spent in prevention saves $7 in emergency spending. Until we invest in long-term solutions, we will find outselves paying for costlier fixes.
Photograph of malnourished child in Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) tent, credit: Cate Turton/UK Department for International Development
Maps of Horn of Africa Rainfall, courtesy of US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
Leave a comment »
Share this Article
- 22 Students Hospitalized After Awning Collapses in North Carolina - New York Times
- Clinton and Biden, in Dueling Speeches, Focus on Transgender Rights - New York Times
- Max Scherzer strikes out 9 straight en route to 2nd no-hitter of season - ESPN
- Doctors Without Borders says US airstrike hit hospital in Afghanistan; at ... - Washington Post
- Post-scrimmage Q&A with U of L's Rick Pitino - The Courier-Journal
- Oregon Gunman's Father Dismayed by Lack of Gun Legislation - New York Times
- One Killed and 8 Hurt by Explosion in Borough Park, Brooklyn - New York Times
- Insight - After VW, Germany needs EU friends to join its party - Reuters
- One-two punch: Hurricane Joaquin, second storm deluge East Coast; 4 dead - CNN
- Racial profiling bills draw praise from activists, criticism from police - Los Angeles Times
The hush-hush of politics is controlling a segment of people without those people recognizing the... (Perspective: Occupy Stanford, Occupy The Future, and Why Care? )
yeah you are right, internet does provides a bridge between politicians and common people, i have... (Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport: Lobbying For Your Interests)
That the question, Who cares if I sign this petition? (Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport: Lobbying For Your Interests)
Yes Lee, the similarities between 1932 and 2011 are very strong.
The two prevailing factors to m... (Social Unrest and Money Printing: Is 2011 America's New 1932?)
The more I read the more depressed I become. There are now millions of former WWII children of wa... (Norway’s New Prisons: Could They Work Here?)