The United Nations warned Friday that all of Southern Somalia is in danger of slipping into famine. The number of people needing food is now at 12.4 million. Routes out of Somalia towards refugee camps are being called “roads of death” because of the bodies of those who starved to death along the way — particularly children — left by the roadside.
In the last week, since the Canadian Government announced that they would match all donations made to famine relief in Somalia and other parts of Africa, Canadians have donated — but not much. Since the announcement of donation matching, Canadians have donated $2.9 million to the Humanitarian Coalition, a group of charities that includes the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontiers and World Vision.
In contrast, in the week after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated parts of Japan on 11 march, Canadians donated over $10 million to disaster relief, despite the fact that Japan is a wealthy, first world country with plenty of resources of its own. Why the discrepancy?
The issues are complex. Individuals may feel that donating to famine relief in the Horn of Africa is a waste of money, particularly since it is well known that aid agencies are having a very difficult time getting assistance directly to those who need it. Warlords and corruption are both having enormous impacts on how much aid is actually able to reach those in need.
Canadians also have a troubled history with Somalia. During a peacekeeping mission in 1993, a Somali teenager was killed at the hands of Canadian soldiers — a scandal that had deep and far-reaching implications for the Canadian military and left many Canadians wary of peacekeeping missions overall.
In addition, the media coverage of Somalia is patchy. The story is not even current top news on CBC, CTV, BBC or CNN. The disaster in Japan, on the other hand, was immediate, widely broadcasted, repeated frequently and was immediately, viscerally devastating.
Finally, with the debt crisis in the US, political intrigue in Ottawa and July holidays being in full swing, people may simply be distracted. Life is busy, after all, and the suffering and deaths of thousands of Africans is incredibly difficult to comprehend and thus is hard to keep on our radars.
But even if it’s not on the news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. People are dying. Children are too malnourished and weak to even try to feed from their mothers or take in any food that might come their way. Mothers are leaving the bodies of their babies by the side of the road when they cannot reach a refugee camp in time — and even if they reach the camp, there’s no guarantee there’s enough space or food.
Canadians can donate to the Humanitarian Coalition at the website Together.ca. All donations made until September 14 will be matched by the Canadian government.
You can also sign the Care2 petition, telling President Obama and his administration to make aid to Somalia a priority.
Photo Credit: Oxfam East Africa on Flickr