comprehend hunger through imagery


Empty Rivers

Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Part III of the Descendent of the Hyena Story.

The vast majority of small-scale farmers in Subsaharan Africa depend on rain feed agriculture. Yet, around Zara’s village the rivers dry up, as soon they have swelled in the short rainy season, and water becomes scarce.

Most of the world’s economic weak families live in rural areas and work in agricultural and livestock economies. For these households, poverty, hunger and illness are highly dynamic phenomena, changing dramatically over the course of a year in response to production, price and climatic cycles.

As a result, most of the world’s acute hunger occurs not in conflicts and natural disasters but in that annually recurring time of the year called the ‘hunger season’, the period during the year when the previous year’s harvest stocks have dwindled, and little food is available on the market, causing prices to shoot upward.

Employment and economic opportunities are often scarce during the hunger season, and to make matters worse, in many countries this period usually coincides with the rainy season, when severe illnesses like malaria strike hardest.

Despite the importance of seasonal cycles throughout the rural developing world, development response is often homogeneous in type and amount throughout the year.

Seasonality is one of these leverage points. Interventions like pre-positioning nutrition and health resources, providing employment during the hunger period, and indexing benefits to prices will cost-effectively reduce poverty, hunger, child mortality and illness.

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The Gaps in this Family Portrait 


Part II of the Descendent of the Hyena Story.

Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan –

The few months after harvest in September, are comfortable for the community of Guidan Koura. Food is readily available. The water holes are replenished and full.  The time of plenty is short-lived

Zara’s husband is missing, from the picture, he is coming only for the short rainy season to help with the agricultural season and harvest. they all know there will not be sufficient work or food for all and he is leaving for the rest of the year to work in the faraway coastal countries the rest of the year.

Soon the supplies reduce, the mothers have to think of the months to come and start to ration. Orientate their thoughts to the long months ahead. Survival to Zara’s family will depend on her forward thinking and her ability to balance her household economy and care duties as a mother.

2005 was a terrible year the harvest was small, no one in the village had much grain. The social fabric of the community began to unravel; neighbours hid food from each other, knowing that dividing food into even smaller portions would mean starvation for all. Hunger drove them all mad. It was then when Zara’s big sister fell ill and died; she left two daughters to look after. With no food in the home and two more mouths to feed her second born boy fell behind. He too died during the 2005 hunger season.

Zara now calls three daughters and two boys, one born in 2007 her children.

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Descendent of the Hyena

Photo and Text: Smauel Hauenstein Swan –

Over the next few weeks, I will post the story of Zara, a women framer from Guidan Koura. The name of the village means the place of the Hyena, in remembrance of the ancient female ruler, once guiding this region of Niger at the edge of the Saharan Desert.

Zara’s story typifies the reality of many smallholder farmers in the Sahelian belt running from Senegal in the west of Subsaharan Africa to Ethiopia in the east. Like many communities in this semi-desert environment; rain falls only a few months of the year, and irrigation sources are few. Every year between April and harvest time in September the food runs low and hunger grips communities, families, men, women and children.

“My Fram is more like a garden,” Zara tells us, “the soil is poor. It gives us no more than two months’ worth of millet, less if the rains are not plentiful. The rest of the year I must look for work and make do with whatever is there is to find”

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Clémence’s soft toy




Clémence is holding onto her soft toy Dalmatian Puppy, her mother gave her for Christmas. Children all over the world hold on to their cuddly toys for comfort in unfamiliar places. Clémence is no different.


I meet her and her mother, Anita, in the intensive nutrition unit of the pediatric hospital in Bangui, the Central African Republic. 29,250 children under 5 years suffering from acute malnutrition are admitted for therapeutic care. The principal referral centre of the capital is crowded with children that have fallen ill with the most severe and deadly form of malnutrition. There is little noise from these children: too ill to play, too weak to express discomfort.


At two and a half years old and 5.5 kg, Clémence is barely above the weight of a new born baby. I learned how she came here as her mother, Anita, props her up in her lap. A few weeks back she was a strong and joyful little child playing in the streets near her home. All changed when she caught malaria and lost appetite fighting the fever. Weakened by illness, she developed diarrhea and quickly lost weight to the point that her parents got very worried and brought her into the hospital, where they learned their child was suffering from severe malnutrition.


Severe malnutrition is one of the greatest challenges to child survival in the world today. Affecting 16 million children worldwide and responsible for up to two million child deaths each year, it is the most lethal form of malnutrition.


Clémence is clinging onto her Dalmatian toy when the nurse tries to move it to take the temperature. Her breathing is very quick and she seems to drift in and out of sleep. She is unable to move her head up and look around. Having worked with ACF for many years, the intensive nutrition units are the hardest, saddest places to visit. No child should ever fall ill with Severe malnutrition.  It is the epitome of an unjust world: a place that produces more food that it can eat and has the knowledge to treat infections these children can no longer fight.


However, nutrition units are also places of hope. Last year 87% of children brought to our nutrition clinics in CAR recovered and returned home. ACF cured more than three million children around the world last year alone. Effective community treatment, equipped with products like therapeutic foods, reach children living in the most marginalised and conflict ridden areas of the world. Where the illness is extremely severe and complicated by infection as it was with Clémence, inpatient treatment with the supervision of ACF doctors and nurses around the clock is the only option. CAR has experienced high levels of violence that have devastated its health system and increased poverty, so only few referral centres are available.


Talking to Anita, a law student, she was hopeful that the treatment was working and there were  some signs that her child was getting better. Trying to feed her was not easy, as Clémence was spilling much of the therapeutic milk and having difficulties even swallowing. Feeding ill children is a painfully slow and delicate process as any parents know. Here it is an act of desperation to save a child.  My presence was not helping as Clémence was distracted. I left the hospital where Anita was hopeful that her daughter would gain weight and get back her appetite so they could return home. I felt hopeful that Clémence’s mother was right.


Arriving back in the UK I had some horrible, sad news from Central African Republic. Clémence died from severe malnutrition only days after I left her bedside. Her mum was doing her best. In a country that has high rates of illness, only few health care workers are at hand to help her to detect the early signs of malnutrition and get treatment. This Mother couldn’t prevent her baby from getting regular bouts of malaria or the diarrhea that followed and weakened her little girl, and led to the severe malnutrition. She is one case in about 700 malnutrition-related deaths per year in CAR.


We do save lives in our projects every day. Sadly we failed Clémence. Despite our best effort, too many children still do not make it through severe malnutrition. In 2015 Action Against Hunger treated 1,560,000 children: more than any previous year. We have to do even more. Anita, her story and pictures serve me as a reminder to raise awareness of the unspeakable injustices of malnutrition so many children in CAR and worldwide, battle with day in day out.


Action Against Hunger are part of a massive scale up and work with communities, donors and doctors to find children long before they are severely malnourished, to expand treatment into many more health centers in order for malnourished children to stand the best chance to be cured. Referral centers such as at the Bangui paediatric hospital partner with us to deal with overwhelming numbers of malnourished children.

Old aged citizens are holding up the cross of the pandemic.


Photo: Samuel Hauenstein Swan 

Malawi’s HIV epidemic remains generalised and feminised. Although the country has recorded a significant reduction in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths; adolescent girls, young women and other key populations, particularly in urban areas, continue to bear the highest burden of the epidemic.

The HIV pandemic is worthing the poverty experienced by elderly. Orphans witnessing the death of one or both of their parents may be exhausted emotionally have no choice than turn to their grandmother and fathers for protection and upkeep. Not only does this increase the cost of running the households also the elderly grandparents must compensate for the loss labour on the frames for to the foreseeable future. The old have watched and grieved with dignity and dismay as one after another of their children died, leaving them without a traditional family support. ADIS left some families with only the old and the very young.
Malawi is a nation living in grief. Malawi’s communities are upholding human dignity and respect in circumstances that would daunt the most stout-hearted. Or as this woman told me the pandemic make everyone realises that strength lays in mutual community support and solidarity.

In 2016, Malawi had 36 000 (31 000 – 45 000) new HIV infections and 24 000 (20 000 – 31 000) AIDS-related deaths. There were 1 000 000 (970 000 – 1 100 000) people living with HIV in 2016, among whom 66% (62% – 70%) were accessing antiretroviral therapy. (UNAIDS 2017)

Dignity a necessity for Developing



World Children Day

Today it is World Children Day lets give them what they most deserve dignity!

Behind each growing up child stands a loving mother, parents and the broader community, to give them the means to succeed.

Often I hear development for good change is about boosting agricultural technology, maximising value chain beyond the farm gate, better cash or food yields, etc. While I do not doubt any of these development focuses, first of all it is about sharing dignity throughout society. This must start with the weakest in society children.

This mother in Malawi told me how she has to struggle to manage her triple tasks: working on one of the large commercial tobacco farms for cash, tending to her plot of land for food and looking after her children’s needs.

Much of the commercial farmers produce nonfood items or maize destined for expert and getting foreign currency into its economy. This mother is no exception paid poorly the cash she earns is mostly drained for expenses such as transport, housing, schooling, health, and food. What she pays for full-time agrarian about is not nearly sufficent to feed the family. She as many smallholders has to cultivate on steep hillsides and other marginal lands, often with inadequate soil and water conservation, to substitute her purchased food from the mear day labor.

When her little boy fell ill with diarrhea, she had to make the impossible desition to drop either her wage labor or neglect her plot or both to tend her child and bring him to hospital. What should be the happy end to a worrying childhood disease quick moves on to the next concern, now she has missed a day at the commercial farm; her boss might have fired her meaning she lost her income.

Investing in peoples lives not merely a functioning of economic outcomes that results in growing exports and fancier technologies, but most of all must change the balance of social justice, hegemony and leading to dignity for all. No child should grow up in a household and community that is exploited to the great good of a few pushing the dignity of many in to second place

While choices in the political world are painted in shades of grey, the consequences of those decisions are often irreversibly black and white: the joy of a healthy childhood and family or the violence of poverty and hunger. Conceiving of and the implementing mechanisms to transfer control over peoples lives from the powerful actors to the families themselves is no small goal: above the technical obstacles, voluntary giving away dominance is not something that human beings do well. Development, defined as “good change (Robert Chambers)” must strive for nothing less than a real will for justice accessible at all levels even where it is in direct conflicts with the will to power and the few that hold this power.

Rory Stewart, it is time to act to the Yemen’s looming famine

Somalia Food Crisis 2011

© Samuel Hauenstein Swan 

By Samuel Hauenstein Swan

“I came to listen and learn from you responding to the needs of mothers, fathers and their children in Yemen,” said Rory Stewart MP, UK Minister of State for International Development. This was back in January, Now that the United Nation has announced that there is a Famine looming in Yemen will the United Kondome act on what the minister heard. Priorities what is morally the right thing to do over economic gains from selling arms that are used in this war?

Nearly three hundred delegates participated in the civil society conference on Yemen organised by Action Against Hunger with six other NGOs delivering assistance to civilians affected by the conflict. Donor officials, government representatives, UN delegates and development practitioners, followed the call by Yemeni civil society and aid agencies working in Yemen, to urgently discuss humanitarian challenges and possible options for scaling up humanitarian response.Delegate urged officials to do everything in their power to stop the vicious campaign in Yemen that has cost tens of thousands of lives and left a country in ruins. With some of the biggest powers complicit in the tragedy by supporting armies on all sides. Support that comes with huge economic gains

Nearly three hundred delegates participated in the civil society conference on Yemen organised by Action Against Hunger with six other NGOs delivering assistance to civilians affected by the conflict. Donor officials, government representatives, UN delegates and development practitioners, followed the call by Yemeni civil society and aid agencies working in Yemen, to urgently discuss humanitarian challenges and possible options for scaling up humanitarian response.

Delegate urged politicians and officials to do everything in their power to stop the vicious campaign in Yemen that has cost tens of thousands of lives and left a country in ruins. With some of the biggest powers complicit in the tragedy by supporting armies on all sides. A support that comes with huge economic gains for wealthy nations and their arms industries.

The conference participants urged stakeholders to revert current tactics and instead invest in peace. Yet, even if negotiations progress it is likely that the crisis will continue. There was an urgent call therefore for donors to increase funding and address the overwhelming needs spelt out in the Humanitarian Response Plan. The conference heard from Yemeni local NGO partners how an aerial campaign has left much of the infrastructure in rubbles and created a climate of fear whereby civilians no longer dare to seek assistance in hospitals, public buildings or schools for fear of these being targeted. Food and economic activities have collapsed, the central bank has no cash to pay public sector workers, and parents have no means to care for their children.

The systematic embargo imposed and enforced by regional and global their global allies mainly the UK and the US, in a country greatly dependent on food imports, triggered high commodity prices resulting in a profound deterioration of the nutritional situation, and hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk. An estimated 1.5 million children have fallen ill with acute malnutrition – 370,000 of whom are suffering from its most severe form. One of the leading causes of civilian deaths in Yemen’s conflict are mothers and children dying due to lack of routine health and nutrition services and lack of safe drinking water.

In the midst of violence Action Against Hunger’s team on the ground has scaled up its programmes, reaching an increasing number of children with nutrition stabilisation centres in four governorates. Our teams are running mobile clinics in the worst affected areas where health post and hospitals have stopped functioning. We are not the only international organisation to do so; nonetheless what is clear to us and other aid agencies operating in these dangerous conditions is that there is a need to increase the humanitarian capacity and diplomatic commitment on the ground.

We heard and praised the courage of the Dutch and Swedish representatives to conduct official visits to Sana’a, the principal city in North Yemen. Civil Society invites more diplomatic dialogue to explain to regional and local leaders the humanitarian principals and reach a diplomatic consensus on the engagement of aid agency and aid delivery with Yemen’s leaders.

The only UK official visiting Yemen in years is Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and former Secretary of State for International Development who shared his thoughts with the participants. He summarised what he saw with the following lines: “Yemen is not starving, Yemen is being starved”. He concluded by suggesting that the UK’s inconsistent policies towards Yemen could be transformed into a force for good: “The UK can play a leading role in finding political solutions to the conflict in Yemen and to address the humanitarian crisis.”

The conference concluded with four direct calls to actions:

The international community and in particular the United Kingdom should redouble its efforts to reinvigorate the peace process, stop fueling the conflict with arms sales and press for meaningful inclusion of civil society voices at all levels to ensure any deal reached is understood and supported especially inside Yemen.

Political will must be found and implemented at all levels to ease restrictions on the flow of goods into and around the country. The cranes for Hodeidah port should be allowed into the country, commercial airspace should be reopened, and approval processes for the movement of humanitarian goods and personnel should be streamlined.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan needs to be fully funded. 2016 ended with an unacceptable shortfall of 40% of the needed resources. Funding needs to be flexible and responsive to the challenges of the ground and longer-term development needs.

Donors and governments should engage inside Yemen as well as with regional governments to increase their understanding of the realities of delivering humanitarian assistance but also allow them to build the relationships needed to apply diplomatic pressure in support of the humanitarian response and international humanitarian law.

The conference was a loud call to action. The many contributions throughout the day were a show of unity among humanitarian organisations and local civil society for donors and governments to raise their game and stand by the victims of this war.

Rory Stewart MP, UK Minister of State for International Development, asked to hear more about the challenges faced by the humanitarian sector and how UK Aid particular and the British Government as a whole could assist and inconsistent policies could be resolved. Conference participants spoke about the many innovative solutions that they are implementing and proposing. Rory Stewart said he will have the opportunity to bring the outcome of this meeting to his counterparts in Spring 2017 when donors and governments will meet to discuss Yemen and the looming Famine. Conference participants expressed their hope that besides a generous pledge and support for humanitarian action, the high-level Spring meeting will renew political will for a process to end one of the four most deadly conflicts worldwide.

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