Disaster Relief

"Some days, we don't have food"

How would you respond if you heard a 13-year-old girl say that on some days, she simply doesn't eat? World Vision's Lauren Fisher, covering the drought and food crisis in Niger and across West Africa, writes her third blog post recounting stories of visits with people and communities affected by this emergency. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.

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“Someday, I want to be an NGO [non-governmental organization] worker.”

Shy 13-year-old Koubra Mamane’s answer surprises me. A bit hesitant in her speech, and a bit skeptical of the whole interview, she reminds me of your typical teenage girl. She tells us she loves mathematics and has to help her mom around the house. She shows us her school books carefully stowed in a bright yellow and red purse.

“I like calculations in school, but I also like the other subjects because I want to become intelligent and gain knowledge,” she adds.

But her dreams of the future wouldn’t be the only answer that gives me pause. In fact, the next one has been stuck in my head ever since it came out of her mouth. We ask Koubra about the food shortages in her village. She says that when there is no money, her family cannot buy food.

Those days, she and her family do not eat.

Food crisis leaves holes in a community

World Vision's Lauren Fisher is on the ground in Niger, where prolonged drought has resulted in weak harvests and a food crisis similar to what the Horn of Africa has suffered over the past year. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.

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It’s 3 p.m., and the school is alive with clapping, singing, and plenty of desperate hand-raising. We’re spending our afternoon with the children of the Toungouzou village at their school, built by World Vision.

It looks like most schools you’ve been in, complete with the light scent of chalk dust, the boards filled with maps and songs. The children, ranging in age from 6 to about 13, are excited to see the cameras and to have some new people to admire their recently learned skills. A beautiful young girl in red dress and scarf comes up to the front to show us the song she’s learned. She beams shyly at our applause. We find out later that she’s 12 years old and hopes to be a doctor someday.

But along with the hopes and dreams in this classroom, the reality of the food crisis in Niger is here as well.  There are several empty spots in the classroom where pupils once sat.

Haiti will never be a lost cause

Last time I flew into Haiti, I was reading Ernest Hemingway’s "The Old Man and the Sea." I finished it just as the plane hit the tarmac of the broken-down Port-au-Prince airport. As I closed the book, I looked up and realized why it had resonated. The protagonist and his struggles at sea reminded me of this fascinating and broken place I’d come to call home -- a country where work happens, struggles continue, and yet "success" or any kind of respite seem so often out of reach.

It’s now been two years since the largest earthquake to hit the country in 200 years shook the life out of Port-au-Prince, causing chaos, destruction, death, and leaving more people homeless than the wrecked city could cope with. Journalists have come and gone, and the visiting groups of beaming, t-shirted volunteers have become less and less frequent. The work of aid agencies, the private sector, and the government has continued, with varying levels of success amid swathes of challenges, for 24 long months, and will continue for as long as there is the will, funding, and available resources.

From heartbreak to hope in Haiti: Two years in photos

This week marks the two-year anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. It was the most powerful quake to hit the nation in more than 200 years. The impact was devastating, triggering an international relief and recovery response. Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere even before the 2010 quake.

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FWD the facts: Day of Action for the Horn of Africa

There are many goals we have for the future that help define our work as an organization: reducing global poverty, ending preventable child deaths, eradicating malaria, and so on.

But just for today, we have another goal: to inspire 13.3 million Americans to FWD the facts about the drought and food crisis in the Horn of Africa, spreading awareness to ensure that the tragedy no longer goes overlooked.

In partnership with USAID and the FWD (Famine, War, Drought Relief) campaign, World Vision is asking supporters to participate in today's FWD>Day of Action for the Horn of Africa.

How? It's as simple as this: FWD the facts.

Covering Somalia: Are we doing enough?

Over the weekend, I read a memoir of the life of Ahmed Ali Haile, a great Somali whom I was blessed to meet earlier at Daystar University in Kenya, where I attended my undergraduate studies. Haile taught a course I took on understanding Islam -- a course that would positively influence my relations with the Somalis with whom I work.

In his memoir, Haile narrates his experience of famine in 1965, as a 12-year-old boy in central Somalia. His family and community had coping mechanisms that they practiced. But the continued conflict there has clearly cut off this pattern -- and the consequences are devastating.

Since I started working for World Vision three years ago, I have met many malnourished children in Somalia. On few occasions, our teams were not able to save these children.

But I have witnessed just as many success stories of children who literally came back to life after staring death in the eyes.

What disaster? 4 global crises that deserve more attention...

Today is a day of observance mostly unknown to people outside of the international relief and development world -- the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

But with the American media largely preoccupied with the goings-on of our dysfunctional political environment, I’m taking the opportunity to commemorate this day you’ve likely never heard of by talking about four disasters you’ve probably not heard too much about.

These disasters impact vulnerable children and families, and they deserve more attention.

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.