Wednesday, July 20, 2011


DECLARED IN SOUTHERN SOMALIA - The United Nations has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia, as it suffers the worst drought in more than half a century. When does mass starvation turn into a famine?  Aid agencies and international organisations call it the f-word.  Famine means people are starving on a massive scale, aid organisations do not use it lightly to describe a humanitarian crisis.  Most major aid agencies - the FAO, the WFP, the UN’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network, Save the Children UK, CARE International, the European Commission Joint Research Centre and Oxfam - only describe a crisis as a famine when the situation on the ground reaches level five on the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system. This means:  at least 20% of the population has access to fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day; acute malnutrition in more than 30% of children; two deaths per 10,000 people, or four child deaths per 10,000 children every day.

It is usually up to governments to declare a famine.  But in the case of Somalia, the UN stepped in because of the lack of central government.  The classification system was created by the UN in 2005 to objectively classify need to help allocate resources. It uses information from surveys conducted by the UN and other agencies on the ground.  Calling a famine helps raise awareness of the crisis - and it can help raise emergency funds.  Using the f-word gives a very strong message to donors and politicians.  It brings in publicity and puts it on the news agenda and this word “famine” gives us an idea of the level of human suffering.

Regions of Somalia worst-hit by drought are now officially in famine conditions.  But Aid agencies exercise prudence when they use the word “famine”, because it is politically contentious, and governments also shy away from using it.  If it is at level four, it is a huge crisis. If it is at level five [officially a famine], it is a massive crisis.  However, for those who are starving, whether or not their plight is a famine or an emergency makes little difference.  We should support the good things and combat the bad things of this material world with the spiritual help that the maha mantra gives us.  

If this world can cause us very great misery and suffering, it means that Krishna can cause us very great good fortune and happiness, because joy is greater than suffering and good fortune is more than misfortune.  Good triumphs over evil, then we must have that kind of positive conviction because that is the reality.  We see that there is hungry everywhere and some people have to make an abortion or kill others for this reason.  If you do a scientific study will conclude that there is plenty of food, enough to feed at least three times the population of the earth.  At least three times of the world’s population can be satisfied.  There is no shortage of food, on the contrary, there is plenty.  In reality, the good is there to conquer the evil or misfortune. We have to use the good, we must resort to the good.

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