On Crisis Hopping
Image by Sam Loewenberg. Kenya, 2011.
Last week Pulitzer Center grantee Sam Loewenberg, filed one of the first reports from Dadaab, the immensely over-crowded refugee camp in Northeastern Kenya and ground-zero of the Somali humanitarian crisis.
Loeweberg’s report for TIME came the day before the UN officially declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia. Since then, the story has exploded in the mainstream media and the UN’s World Food Program began airlifting food in earnest to areas hardest hit by famine and drought in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
My question is, why so much attention now? The UN and other aid agencies have tried to raise awareness of the crippling drought that is a major factor in the current famine for nearly a year.
“There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility to act…by the time the U.N. calls it a famine, it is already a signal of large-scale loss of life.” —Fran Equiza, regional director of Oxfam, quoted in the Washington Post
As Loewenberg points out, “The drought and skyrocketing food and fuel prices that have pushed populations in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia into dangerous levels of malnutrition were forecast last winter.” Too, anyone familiar with Dadaab will tell you it has been on the verge of catastrophe for at least the last decade. If not drought, then floods; if not famine, then severe overcrowding.
To be sure, the situation in the Horn is a complex amalgam of failed governments and repressive anti-government militias, as well as schizophrenic aid and intervention policies. That said, I can’t help but feel this is the latest in a long line of examples of our collective inability to focus on more than one crisis at a time, and more crucially of our savant-like ability to gloss over the most entrenched and systemic crises in favor of those sexier and easier to digest.
What are your thoughts?