comprehend hunger through imagery

Dominic Nahr: Somalia: The Catastrophic Famine (Magnum: September 2011)


There is no children’s laughter here. Most are too weak to even cry out. Almost all of the patients in the children’s wing of the Banadir hospital die within hours of their arrival of malnutrition related illnesses and diseases.

Over 2.8 million people are at risk of starvation and hundreds of thousands of Somalis are on the verge of dying, while the UN declares that large swathes of the country are in a crisis.

The worst hit areas are in the south where the Islamists al-Shabaab hold power. The Islamists are divided on whether to welcome aid or deny it, for fear of siding with their enemies. The US, with its close ties to the World Food Programme, have the option to distribute the food already in Mogadishu and the neighboring ports of Djibouti and Mombassa but no action has been taken so far. The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is indecisive about giving food to areas controlled by al Shabaab, as there is a general consensus that the Islamists have lost their footing, due to lack of funding, food and unity. The fear is that supplying the areas previously controlled by al Shabaab could help to bring them back to power.

Everyone is making up a game plan on how not to help al Shabaab and keep them starving and on the run. Meanwhile, the civilian population is completely ignored for the perceived greater good of obtaining control of the country.

None of this really matters to the grandfather and mother of Umar Usman, age seven, as they watch the child take his last breath. Famine is nothing new. In this case, it was foreseen long in advance. Contingency plans were in place. Warehouses full of food are only kilometers away. Politics are what killed Umar and the thousands of other children who are being left to die.


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