I am trying today to find a picture for a Reverend in the US, to use at his Holiday sermon marking Thanksgiving.
The picture is of a girl-child in Pakistan, holding an infant. She is a child herself, and it is surely possible that the infant she’s holding is her own. As I search the archives of photographs at my fingertips to find the origin of the picture, I come across countless others that tug at my heart-strings and make it increasingly difficult for me to sit at my comfy chair, rather than to fly to where people suffer and bring help – or hope.
But there is little hope I can bring to a world where tradition often trumps progress, and food scarcity is transcending from a scientific term to a tragic reality for more and more people. Today as water tables fall, soils erode and temperatures rise, world grain production has fallen short of consumption, and global grain prices have risen ever higher.
Governments of poorer nations, which often buy basic food supplies to subsidize their people’s nutrition, are paying record prices for food they practically give-away as a government subsidy. The result is that they are willing to buy less and less of it, allowing their populations to suffer greater food shortages and more malnutrition.
Unfortunately, shortages affect children, female children, and women in impoverished countries the most – but still suffering is equally bad no matter for whom. In Pakistan, after the recent floods, many families lost precious land they had used to farm, and livestock, both of which are essential to their food security. The Punjab province, Pakistan’s most fertile area, was almost entirely submerged by the end of the downpour, and nearly 600,000 tons of wheat were destroyed. According to the World Food Program, at least 2 million hectares of crops were ruined as a result of the floods, and nearly 2 million tons of rice vanished in the flood waters. The result is that more than 14 million people, were adversely affected by the destruction around them, including loss of family, loves ones, an emotional and physical support structure, a safe dwelling – and a stable food and income source for years to come.
Against this backdrop of floods is the reality that global water supplies are falling. Despite the massive rains and storms that befall some of the world’s biggest grain producers, including India, China and the US, they are not enough to recharge wells that are being irrigated by increasing numbers on a planet that recently reached 7 billion in population. As water levels drop, wells go dry, farmers can harvest less land and, as is seen in China - the world’s largest producer of wheat, the yield is shrinking – 7% just within the last decade.
In the Horn of Africa, where a modern-day famine is unfolding before our 21st century eyes, nearly 1 million people are at risk for starvation in the next few months. That is, by the time our Holiday season is over, they will have perished. These statistics include women and children, as well as the elderly and men. In Somalia, famine has now spread to six regions, the 6th of which is one of the nation’s most productive areas. An entire people have succumb to the scarcity of food at dire levels where mothers can’t feed their children, nor can they consume enough to make milk for newborns. Fully 4 million people in the Horn of Africa now need essential food aid. nearly 60% of children under the age of 5 are now acutely malnourished, while infant mortality in famine areas has risen beyond the regional average. The famine is likely to become more widespread by the end of the year and looks poised to extend to Northern Kenya, Southern Ethiopia and Djibouti.
According to CARE, and aid agency steeped in the work of saving lives in the Horn of Africa, the crisis is “a combined result of two consecutive years of drought, increasing food prices, underdevelopment, and – especially in Somalia – poor governance, conflict, insecurity and limited humanitarian access.” In Pakistan, the Monsoon rains are a fact of nature. But there again, bad governance, a tradition of keeping women out of the workforce for lesser economic empowerment and consequently a farming dependent economy, have all attributed to the stark aftermath of floods that lay ruin to farming and livelihoods.
To me, nothing is more tragic than starving children and helpless mothers. With uncontrolled births and multiple children to care for and feed, mothers in impoverished corners of the world suffer the worst of human fates – the inability to aid their children when they are in need. For that, they rely on aid groups and the money those agencies collect form folks who know, or should know, how fortunate they are. Although in the developed world, people are struggling through strained and collapsing economies, the reality – when measured on a global perspective – is that we still fare better than most. For that we should be fundamentally thankful.
Today across N. America, people will celebrate Thanksgiving. The crux of the holiday takes place with family and friends gathered around a dinner table, with food abounding. But this scene can not, and will not, repeat itself in too many places around the world. In places like Pakistan or the Horn of Africa where millions are starving each day and children have little access to nutrition or health care, Thanksgiving the way we know it, is meaningless.
Enjoy your holiday, and don’t forget to give thanks for the fundamental fortune in your lives. Then, before you go to bed, go on-line and reach out to charities that serve people who don’t have the basics, and give the least you can. It will help more than you can imagine.
Here are some of Thanksgiving worthy aid groups & charities we recommend:
Millions of people, most of them innocent children, are at risk in drought-stricken East Africa – at least until the rains come in about 100 days. Too many children – especially vulnerable to malnutrition and dehydration – have already perished. Save the Children is providing emergency nourishment to save lives. Donate a dollar a day for 100 days to help save a child’s life.
Despite recent rains, the Horn of Africa is withered by drought – and more than 12 million people there are perilously hungry. People in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are desperate for food and water. We’re on the ground helping more than 1 million people weather the crisis.
We transform the way aid is provided to Africa by building high-impact, low-cost programs through innovative ideas and creative relationships with American universities.
Nearly 1 billion people suffer needlessly without access to safe water. We’re convinced this can change – one village at a time. It’s incredibly important work. We need your help.
A child dies every 15 seconds from diseases caused by a lack of safe water and sanitation, that’s 1.5 million children dying from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid every year.
Action Against Hunger is an international humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger. Recognized as a leader in the fight against malnutrition, Action Against Hunger works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger. With over 30 years of expertise in emergency situations of conflict, natural disaster, and chronic food insecurity, Action Against Hunger runs life-saving programs in some 40 countries benefiting 5 million people each year.
In November, MADRE will send a shipment of organic fruit, flower and vegetable seeds to our sister organization Wangki Tangni, Nikaragua. You can help by donating organic seeds and gardening tools.
Make your gift go twice as far this Holiday season. Your donation to CARE will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $1 Million, through December 31st.