Disaster Relief

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.

Child-Friendly Space opens in Japan

Editor's note: In the aftermath of tragedy and disaster, World Vision uses Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) to care for children by providing them with a safe place to learn, play and emotionally recover from the trauma they've faced. (For more on how we use CFS, read Freedom of imagination) The following was shared with us by Nanako Otsuki, communications officer with World Vision Japan.

Zenin syugo, meaning "everyone gathering together", is the name children in Tome City have come up with for their new playing ground, a World Vision CFS. The name fits perfectly for its purpose, providing children with a venue to come together and share their experiences as they begin the road to recovery.

All the children come from Minami Sanriku, a town that was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami. Right now, they're living in an evacuation center. They don't know when classes will start again; most of their schools were destroyed. Most of them have lost their homes, and many have loved ones who have been confirmed dead. They seek a sense of normalcy after having their lives turned upside down.

"What I want to do"

[caption id="attachment_3438" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Staff at the Child-Friendly Space encourage the children to write and draw their desires. (Itoh Kei/WV/2011)"][/caption]

In the first gathering here, World Vision’s Child Protection Specialist, Makiba Yamano, and other World Vision Japan staff sought to hear the voices of the children. The children wrote down what they wanted to do at the CFS on a piece of paper and made their favorite figure with origami paper.

“I want to play a piano!!” (Minaho, age 12)

“I want to play soccer with eight people.” (Rin, age 8 )

“I want to play cards with other friends.” (RIe, age 12)

“I want to play baseball with everyone.” (Takahiro, age 11)

"What makes me worried"

[caption id="attachment_3439" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Takuma (age 11), Takahiro (age 11), and Syoki (age 12) write "what makes them worried." (Itoh Kei/WV/2011)"][/caption]

The children also wrote down “what makes them worried” and shared their experiences with one another.

“I wonder if I can go to the same junior high school with my old friends.” (Shiori, age 12)

Suffer together, rebuild together -- notes from a Japan aid worker

March 29, 2011- It’s 7:00 am, an aftershock shakes the building awake. It's big, lasts for maybe 30 seconds. Even two weeks after the quake and tsunami, tremors and ripples continue to wreak havoc and remind survivors of their fears and losses. I’m in Miyagi, one of the hardest-hit areas, with World Vision’s emergency response team. We’re....

Freedom of imagination

One of the many measures being planned by World Vision to care for the needs of children after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are Child-Friendly Spaces — safe, supervised learning and playing places where kids can be kids in a post-traumatic environment. They receive psycho-social "first aid" through counseling and structured activities like playtime, music, and art.....

"I am so grateful" -- a tsunami survivor's story

Sachie is the mother of one year and four month old Kouka. She told World Vision Japan about the day when earthquake occurred. This is her story: “Kouka was having a nap in the house when the earthquake occurred. I took Kouka right away and ran out side, but the earth was shaking for quite a long time." ....

Do's and don'ts of supporting disaster relief

In the last week in Japan, over 7,000 people have died. Close to another 11,000 are missing. Over 2,500 suffer from injuries. We all want to help. But it’s the wanting to help that’s the easy part. It’s how best to help, that is the real question. Sometimes our good intentions....

Children are our hope -- notes from a Japan aid worker

Editor’s note: The following note is from Mitsuko Sobata, World Vision Japan communications and advocacy officer, on the ground with World Vision relief and assessment teams.

March 18, 2011- Yesterday, World Vision Japan relief teams .....

Pros 4Japan in Uganda

In partnership with World Vision U.S., a group of professional football players is in Uganda this week doing humanitarian aid work with PROS FOR AFRICA. The athletes become pros 4Japan, too, helping to raise funds and awareness for children affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan

The players are asking people at home....