Following severe drought in the East Africa, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time since the 1980s. The images and stories are both tragic and devastating – babies struggling to live, malnourished children with bloated stomachs and mothers having to make decisions in providing for their children that no parent should ever have to make.
In an article titled East Africa famine: Our values are on trial, Andrew O’Hagan describes some of the horrors of the poverty and starvation.
This is the children’s famine. Running from conflict, and sick with hunger and thirst, people are fleeing to the borders or the aid camps, many children dying on the way or too weak to survive once they get there. In some areas one in three children is seriously malnourished and at severe risk of death. In October the rains will come, most likely bringing epidemics of malaria and measles. Some of the children just lie down and wait for death, which is likely; or mercy, which is elsewhere. Andrew O’Hagan
Aid agencies and international organisations are scrambling to get emergency aid delivered where it needs to be, taking out full page advertisements in newspapers and making urgent appeals to governments and the public for donations.
People have begun to ask the important question: what is to be said of a world in which so many people are dying from lack of something as basic as food when, as an international community, we are far more prosperous than we have ever been before?
In an article about the failures of the humanitarian system in addressing issues such as these, Suzanne Dvorak, CEO of Save the Children, has the following to say.
Two tragedies are unfolding in the Horn of Africa. The first is the very visible tragedy of families who have walked for weeks, their children growing weak with hunger, desperate for our help. Then there is the larger tragedy of a failing humanitarian system built around responding to emergencies, not preventing them.
But by the time it makes the evening news, it’s too late. What is doubly frustrating is that by acting earlier we could have had far more effect for much less money. The UN estimates that every $1 spent in prevention saves $7 in emergency spending. … We need to provide help now. But we cannot forget that these children are wasting away in a disaster that we could – and should – have prevented.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that these tragedies are preventible, particularly so in today’s world where we have the wealth, technology and infrastructure to address these global problems in a manner that we might not have been able to a century ago.
In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah writes:
O Ye Rich Ones on Earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.
It is a lack of the recognition of the oneness of humanity that allows richer societies and their leaders to sit silently by and allow for these human tragedies – preventible in this day and age – to occur time and again. These global problems are physical symptoms of what are ultimately spiritual ailments – a lack of love, a lack of justice, a lack of unity and a lack of a “world-embracing vision”.
While it is heartening to see so many dedicated and well-intentioned people and organisations unite to alleviate poverty and starvation, it is important to remember that these problems – ultimately – cannot be effectively addressed without acknowledging their spiritual basis.