Accident of Latitude

As a child growing up in the 80s, some of the first, and eternally shocking, images that I witnessed on television were the images of the famine in Ethiopia. Early, early images in 1984-5 are very vague to me and only are recalled through their association with Live Aid. Most vivid and moving in my memory are those of the 1990 famine………..5 years after Live Aid, there were still people suffering.

Now, 20 years later, as an adult, I am witnessing shocking footage coming out of the Horn Of Africa showing images that are scarily familiar and equally as heartbreaking.

I feel so lucky that my birthright, simply by accident of latitude, has meant that I have never wanted for anything. I have grown up with a roof over my head, never been hungry, always been in education (and been encouraged to remain in education), and led the life of a privileged small percentage of the world. It’s an accident of latitude and it could have been me who lived a very different life.

We live in a time where we are facing yet another massive humanitarian tragedy. People are suffering on an unimaginable scale, and mothers are making choices about which of their children die in order for the others to survive.

Extended drought is causing a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Weather conditions over the Pacific means the rains have failed for two seasons and are unlikely to return until September. Food shortages are affecting up to 12 million people. The UN has not declared a famine but large areas of the region are now classified as in crisis or emergency, with malnutrition affecting up to 35-40% of children under five. The humanitarian problem is made worse by ongoing conflicts, which means that until July militant groups had only allowed aid organisations limited access to large parts of southern Somalia and eastern Ethiopia.

Since the beginning of 2011, around 15,000 Somalis each month have fled into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food and water. The refugee camp at Dadaab, in Kenya, has been overwhelmed by 370,000 people.  The result of climate conditions, conflict and lack of investment is that 6.7 million people in Kenya and Ethiopia are currently existing on food rations, and relief agencies estimate 2.6 million in Somalia will need assistance a new emergency operation.

There is an early warning system in place for major humanitarian emergencies – they let the world know in plenty of time……………………..the world didn’t listen. Now is the time to act.

I hoped and prayed that in my lifetime I would never see scenes like those I had seen when I was 7 years old. I am seeing those scenes now. How can this be?

(With credit to BBC News)

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