World Must Wake Up to Injustice of Famine: Janna Hamilton
Tags: famine, East Africa, Kenya, Janna Hamilton, Oxfam
Muhumed Surow grieves following the burial of his 12-month-old daughter,
who died of malnutrition, in Dadaab refugee camp. Photo / AP
Heading out to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, I heard a remix of We are
the World played on the morning news. It triggered memories of sitting on a
mat as a 5-year-old primary pupil as we sang the Michael Jackson-Lionel Richie
song for the starving people of Ethiopia during the 1984-85 famine.
It brought home the absurdity of finding myself, 27 years later, in Dadaab
refugee camp in Kenya near the Somali border, where hundreds of thousands again
face starvation – a remix of yet another famine.
In the same three decades, the world has undergone an unprecedented period
of globalised economic growth and innovation in communications, trade and
But standing among the masses of Somali refugees forced to call Dadaab home,
that growth doesn’t appear to be so global after all. There is little trace of
progress among the dust-covered white tents, stretching out before me in every
The strong, hot wind never stops blowing. The sand and fine dust gets in
your eyes, mouth and into your chest.
There’s a constant rhythm of children coughing. Mothers try to rinse their
children clean but it seems impossible.
The refugee camp is not the future anyone would hope for their children. It
is an unjust and undignified existence for people who have lost their land,
their livelihoods and their independence, but for the people here there is no
Every person I ask says they will never return to Somalia. Instead a dry,
dusty desert, where they are packed together in tents only metres away from
their neighbours, is still more attractive than their drought-stricken, lawless
homeland where for two decades they have been robbed of basic rights to food,
water and shelter. Here at least they have a reliable supply of clean, safe
drinking water, shelter and a precious ration card that ensures there will be
more food coming to them every 15 days, but it’s still not enough.
I don’t know what it feels like to be hungry, so hungry that any other
discomfort pales in comparison with the need to eat and have enough food to
prepare a meal for your children.
Today, 30-year-old Hebiba Noor Dizhwah finished bathing her 1-year-boy,
Aden, who was too weak to hold his head up, and showed me her bag of maize that
was supposed to last her family for two weeks. But, after just three days, it
is two-thirds empty.
Humanitarian organisations are calling on continued global assistance to
meet the needs of the more than 12 million people already affected severely by
Despite generous pledges of money from some rich governments and donors,
their help is failing to keep pace with the level of need.
Famines are a thing of the past on every other continent, with the exception
of Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. East Asia’s last famine was in the 1960s, South
Asia’s in the 70s and Europe hasn’t had a famine in more than 60 years. Yet
famine has been declared in five areas of Somalia.
It is all too easy to dismiss the crisis as an inevitable fact of life here
in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is not only the drought that’s to blame.
As well as the repeated failure of the rains, political neglect of
smallholder farmers throughout the region lies behind the crisis. It is no
coincidence that the worst affected areas are the poorest, least developed and
most neglected, lacking the basic infrastructure such as water systems, roads
But there is hope. In Somalia, Oxfam and local Somali partner organisations
operate the largest public-health programme in the country, providing clean
water to 300,000 displaced Somalis in camps outside Mogadishu.
Our partners operate the largest therapeutic food programme for children and
mothers, admitting 3000 malnourished children every week. The aim is to reach
1.2 million people in Somalia, and 3 million throughout the region, by the end
of the year.
Beyond Somalia, there is a need for emergency food, water and sanitation for
rural communities in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.
There is still time to help people in their villages and prevent more
deaths. In the hard-hit Kenyan region of Turkana, boreholes and solar water
pumps save communities from having to spend meagre incomes on high-priced fuel
for pumping water during dry months. Every drop of water is used, with run-off
used to irrigate vegetable gardens.
We can build successes, as we have been doing, even in Somalia. This famine
must be a wake-up call to governments and the international community to
address the issues that make people vulnerable to hunger in the first place. In
a world with enough to eat, there is no good reason why anyone should go
* New Zealander Janna Hamilton spent two weeks in Dadaab
for Oxfam International.
Former journo stationed in Kenya
Kiwi in Dadaab
Zealander Janna Hamilton spent two weeks in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, near
the border with Somalia.
the Humanitarian Media Officer for Oxfam International, the coalition of 15
Oxfam affiliates from around the world.
Janna saw first hand the food crisis and famine that is affecting people across
Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – as well as Oxfam’s effort to save lives and make
families less vulnerable to future crises.
the largest refugee camp in the world, with 400,000 occupants and 1500 more
arriving every day. In the camp, Oxfam is keeping survivors alive by providing
water, stopping the spread of disease by building toilets and offering basic
sanitation education, and helping people get back on their feet through
- Janna’s op-ed in
the New Zealand HeraldAugust 13, 2011“The world must wake up to the injustice of famine”
- Janna is
interviewed on Campbell LiveAugust 11, 2011Includes video footage that Janna shot of Oxfam’s water hygiene and
sanitation work in the camp.
- An interview on
Auckland’s bFMAugust 9, 2011
- Janna’s blog from
Dadaab: Giving women a voice in emergenciesAugust 5, 2011Oxfam meets with groups of women on the outskirts of the IFO camp,
offering them a unique opportunity to talk openly about what they need to
make their lives here a little more comfortable. This article from
also outlines the need for women to have a larger voice in emergency
- “More than
1,000 arrive everyday”Radio
New Zealand Morning Report, August 4, 2011Janna and Oxfam’s Executive Director Barry Coates feature in this news
item from Radio New Zealand.
- Call for more
government help with drought crisisNew
Zealand Herald, August 4, 2011Explaining why it is so important for governments to act now.
- Deadly drought’s
impact shockingDominion Post, August 3, 2011Janna is interviewed for the Dominion Post and struggles to believe her
eyes as people trek into the camps.
follow Janna live from Dadaab on
The submitter’s blogs are at craiglock.wordpress.com
“Where love endures, hope inevitably follows.”