By PAT WATSON
It may be a lot to ask amid the jubilation that is the carnival spirit in Toronto at this time of year, but could we spare a thought for the estimated 3.5 million men, women and children facing starvation in Somalia at this very moment?
The image of the starving African child is well-worn and even before the famine in Ethiopia during the mid 1980s it had become a cliché. However, even as our costumes of fine feathers and sparkly things are being tried on and admired; even as we arrange with friends which party we will attend and which we won’t have enough time for and even as we revel in the sweetness of the music of Structure and Macomere Fifi, we cannot ignore the fact that there are many now nearing the point that even if they do finally receive nutrition their systems are so far gone that their bodies will not be able to accept it.
Of course we care. We cared when that 7.0 earthquake devastated Port au Prince and environs in Haiti in January 2010. We cared about the flood that devastated Pakistan in June last year. So we continue to care when disaster threatens large masses of humanity. There is no doubt that individuals and groups are gathering resources to extend that care in real terms to people whose lives at this very moment depend on our response.
Yet we ask why the news has not come sooner, since drought conditions in Somalia have been evident since at least September last year. Why did so many have to reach the point of no return before it came to the mainstream that this horror was taking place in Somalia? After all, it’s not that those who report the news haven’t had their eyes and ears focused on that troubled nation. We have been able to get so much written and televised news about Somali pirates, for instance.
We know that worldwide food prices have increased. We know that commodities that used to be raised for human consumption are now being used to make biofuels to run cars and other machinery. So the crisis in Somalia is but one extreme case. The region is prone to droughts that lead to human famine. So we have to ask why over all these decades a reliable system has not been put in place to ensure that there would not be a repeat of this crisis.
A story in The Bible tells of a people storing up grain in anticipation of an impending drought that would have surely resulted in famine. But because they were prepared, they thrived even when there was no rain for seven years. This is a story told of people coping over two millennia ago. Yet, what have we learned from such lessons?
In Somalia, a failed state designation has given the impression that getting food to those in need is proving to be extremely difficult – but not impossible. While a debate is being carried on here about whether children who are obese should be taken from their parents and their weight should be viewed as a form of child abuse, there are children who will died there today from starvation.
Anyone who has lived in a poor nation in need will find the lifestyle here and the availability of food to be in stunning contrast. On this important matter, we should not feel disconnected from our fellow human beings in far off places, for there are people right here in Toronto who every month have to go to food banks to maintain their survival.
Food security is critical for human life regardless of whether we live in a failed state like Somalia or a well-developed city such as Toronto. If for any reason the roadways leading into Toronto were cut off and all those large cargo trucks ferrying food into the city could not get in, by one estimate we would run out of food inside of a week. So let us not lose touch with the truth of how horrific the Somalia famine is.
The Canadian government has so far donated $50-million. Personal donations can be made through UNICEF Canada, through Oxfam or the United Nations World Food Program. Oxfam, Save the Children and a number of other Canadian aid organizations have combined their appeal and donations can be made online by going to www.humanitariancoalition.ca.
This carnival weekend we can have fun while also taking a concrete step to save lives.
A note on the temperature…
A mas’ camp marches on its belly, but don’t forget to carry your bottle of water so you can keep hydrated and keep the party going.