By Bryan Dorval
East Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought in the last sixty years which has caused famine and starvation in Somalia, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the media. According to the UN’s office of coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), the current crisis has affected 10 million people , led to 640 thousand malnourished children, killed nearly 29 thousand and placed half a million others at risk.
The drought is destroying families’ crops and livestock forcing them off their lands. (Photo credit: Swiss Coalition of Development Organization)
Nearly three decades ago a drought and famine affected nearly 8 million people in Ethiopia. The crisis was widely covered by major news networks leading to massive support from the public including musicians who would put on one of the largest rock concerts ever held, LIVE AID .
The current famine in Somalia has received a paltry 0.2 percent of news coverage this year which many relief foundations blame for the lack of support here in the United States. According to Caryl Stern, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. fund for UNICEF, “The overwhelming problem is that the American public is not seeing and feeling the urgency of this crisis”.
To put the lack of funding in perspective, around $24 million has been donated to 20 of the top U.S. humanitarian groups working on the crisis to date. In comparison, $228 million was collected for Haiti in the first five days after the 2010 earthquake, and $100 million in donations was collected seven days after the March 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Media coverage of a disaster has proven to have a direct affect on donations. Aid groups reported an increase in donations following the announcement in July that the crisis in the Horn of Africa is officially a famine. ABC ’s coverage of the crisis led viewers to donate USD $100,000 in one night. But there have been other reasons proposed for the lack of charitable support—sadly it seems that desensitization to a region that has been plagued by conflict for the last two decades has led to people not fully understanding the extent of the disaster.
Bryan Dorval is a media and communications intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.