Disaster Relief

A tale of two droughts

Two regions in the world are experiencing severe drought, and yet the outcomes in terms of human suffering are dramatically different. Do you know where these droughts are taking place? And can you tell what distinguishes one from the other?

Drought 1: It began in the fall of 2010, yet it persists one year later. Forecasters say there is a 50-percent chance that weather patterns will not change for the next 12 months. In the last century, this region of the world has experienced its driest 12 months ever recorded. Extreme and exceptional drought covers more than 90 percent of the land. Combined with record-high temperatures, the drought is having an unprecedented impact on the region’s economy and the livelihood of its residents. Economists estimate that $5 billion has been lost as crops and cattle are lost to the hot and arid conditions. To top it off, wildfires have destroyed another 3 million acres of land.

Drought 2: Another drought elsewhere in the world looks similar. For roughly two years, rainfall has been minimal. The rains that typically provide water for crops were just 30 percent of the average rainfall in recent years. Cattle and crop losses are roughly $300 million and have been devastating for the region’s families. Recognizing the conditions, farmers shifted away from their traditional cash crops and toward less profitable but quick-maturing food. But many are still unable to provide an income or even food for themselves or their families.

Both droughts are linked to variations in ocean temperature caused by La Niña. Both regions are agricultural, raising cattle and a variety of crops. Both groups of people have made rational choices in response to weather conditions completely out of their control.

Photo journal: The images that haunt me

Jon Warren recently spent nearly a month in Africa, documenting the ongoing food crisis and highlighting our work in the region. Upon returning home, he put this post together of some of his most memorable images that convey the tragic stories of people left at risk of starvation from an unrelenting drought and food crisis in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Victory in the war on hunger? Achievable.

Anybody who recalls the terrible images of starving children that were shown on television during the famine that struck Ethiopia in the mid-1980s might be forgiven for feeling despair at the current stream of bad news flowing out of the Horn of Africa.

That feeling will probably only be heightened by the realization that the current drought in the region is more severe and more widespread than the one that appalled us in the ’80s. Indeed, it’s the worst drought in the area in 60 years and more than 12.4 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Given this sort of challenge, it’s easy to throw up one’s hands in horror and give up. After all, what have all the billions of dollars worth of aid poured into Africa in recent decades realistically achieved? Aren’t things as bad as ever?

#FamineNoMore toolbox

Join World Vision's global campaign to raise awareness about the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa -- where hunger is stalking 12.4 million people -- and tolerate "Famine No More." (If you receive this post in an email reader, please click over to the World Vision blog to view all images/videos)


Horn of Africa crisis: 14 strategies to make an impact

(Editor's note: In an international campaign to raise awareness about the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, World Vision offices around the world are coming together to tolerate #faminenomore. Will you join us?)

Why help? Why raise awareness? What could I possibly do to make an impact for the 12.4 million affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa?

[From the photo above] When the maize crop failed yet again this year, Hadija Hassan Abdi, 28, took her children and hitched rides for 8 days and nights until she reached the safety of Burtinle camp in Somalia. Along the way she begged for food for her children from strangers. She has been in the camp only 4 days, just long enough to construct a tiny stick hut covered in cloth scraps. There is nothing on the floor and no cooking utensils. She and eldest daughter, Nurto, 10 (on right, wearing orange scarf) are able to earn a little by hauling garbage away for families in nearby Burtinle city. But mostly she still survives primarily by begging. I wonder how we'd react if she came to us for help?

This story from Jon Warren, World Vision photographer in Somalia, really struck me. If Hadija and Nurto were begging right outside my door, what would I do? I live in Seattle, where I see people begging a lot -- sometimes I respond by giving and sometimes I don't. Hadija and Nurto aren't outside my door, but I can't ignore their story, their need. They are as real as the people needing help right in front of me.

12.4 million people are affected by hunger, fighting for their lives -- that's a big problem to wrap our minds around. But I know this... together, we can make an impact. So what could you possibly do to help those in crisis in the Horn of Africa? Start here.


LIVE THE LIFE OF A FAMINE-VICTIM FOR 30 HOURS. The millions suffering in the Horn of Africa are part of the some 900 million hungry people worldwide. The 30 Hour Famine gives your group a chance to do something about it. Read about the Famine team's recent experience in Dadaab, Kenya, one of the world's largest refugee camps.

TEXT. Get those texting thumbs ready... Text "FAMINE" to "20222" to text in your $10 donation to fight hunger and famine in the Horn of Africa

GLOBAL GLIMPSE -- Disaster response in 5 hotspots around the globe

Providing you with a quick snapshot of what's happening in five hotspots around the globe -- where your generous support is literally helping people cope with and recover from disasters and crisis situations. Thank you and please continue to stand by us as we respond to multiple disasters around the world.

Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa (current)

[caption id="attachment_7560" align="alignright" width="297" caption="Children at Melkadida refugee camp in Ethiopia, where some 76,000 of the refugees fled into the border town of Dolo Ado due to the current drought in Somalia. ©2011 Gebregziabher Hadera/World Vision"][/caption]

The first UN-declared famine of the 21st century, caused by a convergence of political strife, drought, and increasing global food prices, is affecting more than 12 million people in four countries in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. More than 30,000 children from Somalia alone have perished of acute malnutrition and other related illnesses during the past three months, and hundreds of thousands have fled into refugee camps scattered throughout the region. Forecasters expect the drought to continue until December, so millions more are at risk.

To add to the misery of Somalis suffering in the drought, an epidemic of cholera has begun ravaging survivors in the Mogadishu area.

Photo journal: 24 hours in Somalia

August 15, 2011 -- Jon Warren, World Vision U.S. photo director, writes from Somalia during his 24-hour stay:

It would be easy to write about the flight from Nairobi to Somalia -- the hulk of 17,057' Mt Kenya looming beside the airplane, the transition from cool rain to blasting desert heat, the pleasure of meeting World Vision's dedicated Somali and Kenyan staff, and the seriousness of a security briefing that I listened very closely to. But a quick visit to nearby camps for drought and conflict refugees reminded why it's so important that I do this blog post. Those numbers we keep hearing about -- took on faces.

As we drove 8 hours today over bumpy, dusty roads, Somalia seems like it belongs in the American southwest. That didn't allow a lot of time to capture the reality of life in Somalia right now, especially when we had to honor security rules and be back by 5:30. But I didn't want to give up the chance to talk with families and see some of our staff at work, even if just for a short time.

Scenes from a Kenyan refugee camp

A new World Vision report indicates that nearly half of the children surveyed in drought-devastated northern Kenya had eaten no food for a full day. Those separated from their parents have fared even worse. Children are now begging by the roadside as they fight for survival, putting themselves at risk of violence and sexual abuse. Students are failing to attend class as they work on construction sites or walk with livestock to find pasture. Young girls are being married off to raise money.

Jon Warren, World Vision's award-winning photo director, is traveling in East Africa to document the emergency hunger situation and highlight World Vision’s work in the region. The photos below are from Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world, situated outside of Nairobi, Kenya. More than 400,000 Somalis -- roughly the population of Miami, Florida -- are amassed in Dabaab, escaping decades of conflict and a drought that has taken their crops and their livestock.

[caption id="attachment_7370" align="aligncenter" width="625" caption="Drought refugees continue to flood into Dadaab camp in Kenya. Circumstances remain difficult, even when they reach the relative safety of the camp. Blowing sand adds to the misery at Dadaab."][/caption]

Tipping points: First famine of the 21st century in Somalia, East Africa

Editor's note: Following yesterday's UN declaration of famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Tristan Clements, country program manager with World Vision's humanitarian emergency affairs team in Australia, comments on the complexities of drought and hunger, and their impact on vulnerable communities in East Africa.

We hear the word "famine" a lot, particularly in reference to Africa and food-related problems. In fact, the word is often overused.

Famine is a very specific event -- a really, really terrible one -- in which we see lots of people of all ages dying as a result of food shortages. For the United Nations, the word has a technical definition of two or more people out of 10,000 dying each day, and acute malnutrition among a third of young children.

In reality, famines don’t happen much anymore. There were a handful in the late 20th century, most notably in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan, but it’s been quite a long time since we’ve seen a real famine.

So it is with great significance that the United Nations is now using the word "famine" to describe the situation in parts of East Africa.

The 5 W's on drought and hunger in East Africa

The number of people affected by devastating drought and hunger in East Africa, also known as the Horn of Africa, has catapulted from 7 million in March to nearly 13 million now. Vulnerable children and families are subject to extreme and potentially deadly malnutrition as livestock perish, vital crops are destroyed, and diseases increase.

Informed by these disturbing statistics -- as well as reports from our field offices, international media, partner agencies, and the World Vision international partnership emergency response team -- we've compiled the following information, which answers the who, what, when, where, and why of the drought and food crisis in East Africa. Expect more posts to come concerning this crisis.

WHO is affected?
An estimated 13 million people in East Africa -- 2.7 million of whom live in World Vision's areas of operation.

The hope beyond what I saw in Sudan

Editor's note: Three weeks ago, we asked Collins, a World Vision communicator in Zambia, to write about his recent experience in Sudan, supporting World Vision's office there. His reply: "My experience in Sudan makes me feel as though I should write a book, because it is something I have never experienced in my life before. You have really asked for the blog at the right time." As South Sudan prepares to celebrate its independence as Africa's newest country on July 9, we continue to to offer assistance to this conflict-weary region.

Indelible memories of the suffering I saw in Darfur have followed me since the day I left Sudan for Zambia. My mind and heart are still attached to the people of Sudan, especially the children. I have seen suffering and poverty in Zambia and other places in Africa -- but not of the magnitude I saw when I visited Darfur’s camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

All I used to hear were stories. I never used to think it was that bad -- until I saw the reality at Otash camp, near Nyala, the capital city of South Darfur, Sudan, where displaced families have migrated for safety.

Blogger interview with World Vision on tornado response

Editor's note: On Tuesday evening, World Vision blogger Dan King conducted a Skype interview with Romanita Hairston, World Vision's vice president of U.S. programs, about how World Vision plans to help those affected by tornadoes in the U.S. Heartland, and her recent experience in the tornado zone in Joplin, Missouri.

I was sitting in the delivery room with my wife early on the morning of April 28, and we turned on the TV to pass a little time. Flipping over to the news, we saw video of a mile-wide tornado ripping through Alabama. It was part of what’s been termed the "2011 Super Outbreak." As we were about to welcome a new life into the world, our hearts broke for the victims of such a devastating storm.

Observations from Missouri's tornado zone

Editor's note: Joplin, Missouri, is a small town in the U.S. Heartland. Its official population is 50,150. But now, it is tragically smaller in every sense, after the May 22 tornado that left 122 dead, 750 injured, and more than a quarter of the town destroyed. Phyllis Freeman, our domestic emergency response director, is on the ground in Joplin.

I went looking for a school and found Irving Elementary School. It was mangled, the bricks blown apart.

You can only think about the children who lived through this, seeing the skies turn black, hearing the roar of 200-mph winds, and watching the tornado chew things up, literally.

Then they emerged to find their home gone, not knowing what’s happened to their friends, maybe their parents.

World Vision responds to tornadoes in central U.S.

Editor's note: At World Vision's office in New York, Mindy Mizell is coordinating media efforts concerning our response to recent tornadoes across the central United States.

Update, May 25, 3:44 pm: World Vision is also continuing its tornado response in Joplin, Missouri where our national domestic disaster director just completed an initial assessment of the neighborhoods impacted in Sunday’s deadly tornado.

“The damage in Joplin is every bit as devastating as what we’ve been responding to in Tuscaloosa,” said Phyllis Freeman, also a veteran of the agency's Hurricane Katrina response. “The damage is just as widespread but it’s a smaller community which means there are fewer resources for survivors to rely on.”

In the Twin Cities, World Vision staff are working with local churches, schools, and community partners throughout the area to provide clothing and emergency resources to the most vulnerable neighborhoods and communities impacted by Sunday's tornado that ripped through North Minneapolis.

“Our World Vision staff knows these neighborhoods well and we know someone has to focus on the kids,” said Chris Brooks, World Vision’s Twin Cities Field Site Director. “People are living without much of anything right now but we’re especially concerned about children in these communities falling through the cracks.”

World Vision will be relying on our Dallas warehouse to provide prepositioned supplies to Missouri. Our response for both tornadoes will be similar -- relief teams will be providing resources like personal care kits and cleaning supplies. Over the long-term, we anticipate sending bulk shipments of building supplies to help survivors in the tornado rebuilding efforts.

Update, May 24, 11:02 pm: "I arrived in Joplin earlier this evening. It's been raining heavily the entire time. Currently there are severe T-storm, flash flooding, and damaging wind warnings for several counties. All of the businesses in this particular section of the city are completely destroyed. Tomorrow morning I'll travel through neighborhoods that are opened for through traffic." -Phyllis Freeman, World Vision's domestic emergency response director in Joplin, Missouri.

Photo stories from tornado survivors

Editor's note: Here are a few of the latest photos from World Vision communicator Laura Reinhardt, in the American Southeast following the deadly tornadoes on April 27 that left survivors across the region without homes.

[caption id="attachment_4884" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Six-year-old Isaiah Walker jumps from board to board. He can still be a child despite the trauma of the tornado, which destroyed his home. ©2011 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_4882" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Isaiah's mother, Veronica May, worries about the emotional effects of the tornado on all three of her children. "This is something that may be embedded in their heads for a long time, if not the rest of their lives." ©2011 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision"][/caption]

Disaster disadvantage [infographic]

Last year’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was all-consuming for a time, dominating the news and mobilizing compassion from all corners of the world. During those first few months, it was hard to imagine that Haiti’s suffering could fall off the radar.

But shortly after Haiti’s one-year anniversary came fresh disasters—New Zealand’s earthquake and Japan’s quake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Scenes of destruction in formerly functional cities, tragic stories, and the threat of radiation riveted media attention and provoked fears that something this bad could happen to us. (And then it did, with last month's killer storms and tornadoes in the U.S. South.)

"We’re all still alive"

Editor's note: Last night, I received the following email from Laura Reinhardt, who is in Alabama:

The man sitting next me on the plane looked out the window as we approached Birmingham, Alabama. He pointed out the path of destruction left by the April 27 tornadoes.

“That’s the spookiest thing I ever saw,” he said. “It’s like someone took a giant vacuum cleaner to the earth.”

[caption id="attachment_4477" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="An aerial view of Tuscaloosa showing just how wide-spread the tornado damage is. © 2011 Laura Reinhardt/WV"][/caption]

Seeing it from the air and being kind of awed by nature’s power is one thing, but getting on the ground and seeing tin roofs curled up like ribbon, walls ripped away to reveal the inside of someone’s life, and then meeting people like 10-year-old Morgan Adams makes it all much more personal.

Morgan came to the house while I was interviewing his neighbor Connie McDonald. He told me about neighbors down the street who were worse off than they were. He’d been helping them to clean up the debris.

[caption id="attachment_4474" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="A fallen tree on the family's old Volkswagon Beetle, the car Morgan hoped to have one day. © 2011 Laura Reinhardt/WV"][/caption]

We walked outside to look at the tree the tornado had knocked over through the roof of his family’s kitchen. He said to me: “You coming down here doesn’t bother me, but people who just drive by and almost get in a wreck staring at us, that bothers me."

When disaster strikes home

Editor's note: World Vision's Nathan Looney reports from his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, that while neighborhoods in his immediate area were spared, towns just 30 minutes north and south have been completely devastated. Nathan, who happened to be visiting his family for the Easter holiday, will connect with our incoming assessment team tomorrow as they jumpstart World Vision's response.

I’ve seen countless pictures of destruction and hundreds of video clips of unimaginable devastation. In my few years at World Vision, I’ve sat in meetings sifting through images and articles, looking for the ones that best tell the story.

At times, those pictures and stories ended up just being a tool to me, a means to educate our donors, a device to appeal for donations. Their utility masked the unique personal story that existed beyond the letters, pixels, and paragraphs.

[caption id="attachment_4416" align="alignright" width="238" caption="Residents inspect the aftermath of overnight tornadoes that left this suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, in ruins April 28, 2011. Photo: REUTERS/Marvin Gentry"][/caption]

Two days ago, my perspective changed. That’s what happens when the “before” in a stack of before-and-after photos isn’t just an image, but a place you’ve been, a place frequented by the people you love.

I had traveled home to Alabama to visit my family for Easter. On Wednesday morning, the sound of tornado sirens woke me. For the remainder of the day, the television stations pre-empted their regular programming to talk about the storm, and the even deadlier storms that could be coming that night.

It’s common in the South for the broadcast outlets to cut into programming during severe weather outbreaks, but this was the first time I had ever seen them interrupt their schedule to warn of an upcoming outbreak. The tone of the meteorologist was ominous, almost pleading.

As evening approached, so did the storms -- tornado after tornado, many of them caught by news tower cameras and traffic cameras. They were like cyclones you see barreling across a Kansas plain in a movie, except these were placed against the backdrop of a city skyline -- my city’s skyline.

World Vision responds to storms and tornadoes in American South

Editor's note: At World Vision's office in New York, Mindy Mizell is coordinating media efforts concerning our response to the deadly storms and tornadoes in the American South.

URGENT: World Vision is responding to the devastation left by deadly storms in Alabama, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Mississippi, as well as the levee break in Missouri. We are working with local partners to distribute first aid kits, hygiene supplies, and other essential products to some of the hardest-hit communities.

An assessment team is also preparing to survey the damage in Alabama and look for ways to partner with churches and other local organizations to help the most vulnerable children and families.

A long road ahead for Japan

Some humanitarian disasters occupy a few days worth of headlines -- if that -- and then quickly become a distant memory, if they're remembered at all.

The Japan quake and tsunami, in my opinion, has been the opposite. On March 11, we were instantly exposed to a flood of media coverage on the devastation in northeast Japan and the gravity of the nuclear crisis created by the crippled power plant. That coverage didn't subside much in the weeks to follow. On some level, the headlines and news clips about this historic natural disaster seem to have rendered the crisis more of an ongoing suspense film than a real-life story about human suffering.

One month after the disaster, I must remember to view the events in Japan in the latter context. Some 31 days since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, there are still thousands homeless, still thousands missing, and still thousands who must rebuild their lives from the rubble that this tremor has left behind. This isn't a movie or television program that I can turn on or off based upon my level of interest. The people of Japan certainly can't.

To that end, World Vision is still there -- and we will be, for the days, weeks, and months to come, helping children and families recover a sense of normalcy, stability, and independence. Japan's tragedy may eventually fade from the 24-hour news cycle, but our commitment will not. Check out the updates below on what we've done so far, and what we have planned over the long term.