Yesterday, the New York Times put the Somalia famine on its front page, with a poster child — a likely dying child at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu. The article was as poignant as the picture, and, according to a piece at Salon for which Bill Keller was questioned, was fully intended to arouse public interest in the famine.

It’s really hard to write about the famine and keep up. Comments I’ve left on blogs about it have inevitably been out of date within a day or two, sometimes within hours. Yesterday, I responded to another commenter by saying that the price tag for humanitarian efforts was $1 billion, today it seems I was behind on that, the estimate is $2.5 billion. Don’t know how I missed that.  The number of children in need of immediate intervention is 1.25 million, those with acute malnutrition (that would be MAM = moderate acute malnutrition or SAM = severe acute malnutrition, defined by the circumference of their upper arms per normal, weight below 2 to 3 standard deviations of normal for height or length for both, SAM includes bilateral nutritional edema (swelling)) are at 640,000 with some reports now saying  or projecting 800,000.

This map synopsizes a lot of facts about the famine and is worth perusing.  About 1/2 of Somalia’s population is at risk, about 1/4 of Somalia’s population is now displaced, either as IDPs or as refugees, or en route.  A pattern has emerged among pastoral families: The mothers go first with the babies and smallest children, then the eldest daughters, often ill fed themselves, with the young children, the eldest sons and men stay to try to protect the livestock and keep them alive. As the map shows, in some places 40 – 60% of the livestock have perished.

Humanitarian aid has been hampered by several factors: The war and lack of government in Somalia, U.S. law, specifically the material support for terrorism law, al Shabab, and apathy, together with the overwhelming size of the catastrophe and its impact on surrounding countries.  The U.S. State department announced yesterday that it would suspend the enforcement of the material support law with respect to humanitarian organizations working on the famine, so we have that breakthrough, thank you Mrs. Clinton et alia.  The Shabab had announced it would permit the humanitarian organizations to work in their territory in mid July, but they rescinded that agreement. Some of their lower ranking chieftains are bargaining on their own, and some aid is flowing, but the situation is dangerous and some humanitarian organizations, e.g. UNWFP, are calling it the greatest impediment to the flow of aid.  General apathy?  That’s rampant. That’s why this is my second article and I’m hoping it does better than the first (which had zero comments).

The crisis is larger than Somalia, although the regions in which famine has been declared are in Somalia, and that is where the intersection of the lack of access to the target population by humanitarian workers, the violence, and the acute need has produced the worst conditions. The crisis is throughout the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya. It is caused in no small part by a collision between the mismatch between nation-states and the pastoralist cultures, and a prolonged La Niña. I had originally reported elsewhere that it was one of the worst La Niña ever, that doesn’t appear to be the case globally, there have been longer ones (in the 1950’s).  The temperature hasn’t been as hot in the region during one, and it hasn’t caused this much dryness in the Horn of Africa before. It’s been the worst in the region on record.  Although the last decades of strife in Somalia have contributed, it isn’t an inevitable consequence of them that can be brushed off as deserved or someone’s fault, if it were, then how come it’s hitting Kenya and Djibouti as well?

The drought and famine is also putting pressure on other nations, with refugees and asylees interacting with governments in Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, and South Africa, as they attempt to move out of refugee camps and find stable places to live and work. South Africa is the only place where asylees are guaranteed that they can work, and not live in refugee camps, so many refugees attempt to get there, and find themselves imprisoned as illegal immigrants elsewhere. This is illegal, but many countries are not far from crisis and poverty themselves for other reasons.  If it is hard to raise money in the current climate for the crisis itself, it is always hard to raise money to help affected neighboring countries that end up shouldering the burdens of such a crisis when a country begins to hemorrhage.

Please try to help.  As usual, all the humanitarian organizations are looking for donations. Here is a short list. But on this page of ReliefWeb, there is a spin button in the lower right corner where it says, “Who’s Reporting” that lists all the humanitarian organizations that post there. If you don’t like the organizations that I list, I’m sure you can find something else among the ones that spin by.