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Somalian Famine Highlights the Need for Urgent Sustainable Development

Words by Akhila Vijayaraghavan
Data & Technology

In 1984, when the world was assaulted with terrible pictures of famine coming out of Ethiopia, several original charity singles like We are the World, Do they know its Christmas? came out to bring awareness to the cause.

The world vowed then that this tragedy would never happen. Sadly, fast forward 27 years and it's happening again. In 1985, America’s aid agency set up a Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) to give warning of impeding famine. It has been forecasting a threat of famine in Somalia since November last year and yet not much was done to prevent it.

Somali Famine to Get Worse

The entire Horn of Africa region is affected but Somalia is hit the hardest. The UN says that this isn't a short-term crisis and predicts worse occurrences of famine in the future. In the coming months as many as 750,000 people could die as the drought worsens and spreads. Not only is the famine the symptom of poor political systems in the area, it also is a case for sustainability. 

According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, famines are a reflection of policy deficits. He says that now the priority must be to save lives and to say,“drought there may be but famine there will not be.” The situation, however, is bleak with aid coming in very slowly. Most nations are already too embroiled in their own debt to lend a helping hand. Out of an estimated US$2.4 billion in humanitarian requirements only 62% has been funded.

USAID has launched a new initiative called FWD which stands for Famine, War, Drought: all of these have led to the current devastation in the Horn of Africa. The initiative is a call for action and a portal to get involved with relief efforts. It is also an initiative to improve food security in the area.

Food Security is Part of Sustainable Development

Food security however, is a long-term problem, deeply enmeshed in sustainability. According to Donald Kaberuka, the President of the African Development Bank Group, "Africa is no longer a continent battling with large macroeconomic imbalances but rather micro economic issues." He says that this largely hinges on sustainable development which must address inclusive growth, adaptation to climate change, management of natural resource, political management and infrastructure deficit. Finally he says that the government must nurture private business as a means of wealth creation. Sustainable development largely depends on the policies within Africa but it also depends on what the rest of the world does.

Sustainability has wider implications in catastrophes like drought. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently said that deforestation is a contributing factor to the acuteness of the famine. The director of the of the World Agroforestry Centre supports this view by saying:

"There is a mistaken view that because these are dry areas they are destined to provide little in the way of food and are simply destined to endure frequent famines. But drylands can and do support significant crop and livestock production. In fact, the famine we are seeing today is mainly a product of neglect, not nature."

However in the midst of such overwhelming strife, even talking about sustainable development seems insensitive.

Lack of News Coverage Hampers Relief Efforts

The refugee camp in Dabaab, Kenya is now the largest in the world. In spite of all those needy residents, a Pew Research Center study shows that the tragedy has barely registered on newsreels.

 "In July and August the food crisis has accounted for just 0.7% of the newshole. Year-to-date the crisis registers at just 0.2%."

Many relief agencies have said that their efforts have been slow because there isn't enough media coverage. Yet, Google trends shows that Kim Kardashian has a higher rate of coverage than the famine. Where have our priorities gone??

As for charity singles, the airwaves seem strangely quiet this time around. Perhaps, we're all sung out. Now that would be the real tragedy.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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