Children are dying before our eyes, and we can stop it
Saturday 6 August 2011
Until last week, I had not let my 11-year-old daughter Alexandria see the pictures of the food crisis in my home country of Somalia.
I didn't think she was ready. Finally, I showed them to her, and she cried. No wonder: thousands of children arrive at feeding centres having not eaten or drunk for days.
My daughter cries, but I am angry. We know how to save those children's lives – and there's a huge aid effort under way. Yet it is incomprehensible to me is that while children are dying, there is a huge shortfall in funding for the emergency response.
I was born poor in Mogadishu but I never knew poverty and never went to bed hungry. If there was no money, someone in the community would bring home food. But the Somalia I remember from growing up is no longer there: conflict and drought mean that families can no longer look after each other. Now we need to rely on others for support.
I find it incredibly disappointing, therefore, that the African Union has announced that it is postponing its fundraising conference for East Africa, an opportunity that would have brought countries together to give money for the millions of children currently suffering there. Perhaps even more shocking is the failure of some of the world's richest countries to come through on their promises of cash for the crisis.
The public has responded amazingly and donations have flooded into aid agencies. Yet the UN appeal for money from governments is currently less than half funded, leaving a shortfall of £793m of readily available cash. In Somalia, this failure to fund the aid effort can be measured in children's lives.
This makes me fear the international community started to give up on Somalia even before the drought came. Do people not understand that these hungry Somali children are no different from their own – that their lives are just as important? And that even if malnourished children are given food, that is not the end of the story? Physically and psychologically some may be beyond repair.
Aid agencies such as Save the Children, which has been working in Somalia for 20 years, know what's at stake. Its teams are saving the lives of children as they arrive at feeding centres in a desperate condition. The charity has already helped one million people across East Africa, but there are thousands more hungry children in urgent need.
Yet aid agencies can't further ramp up their work without the money to do so. If the international community continues to delay, the UN says more than a million children across East Africa are at risk of dying within weeks. We need a fundraising summit now, and we need African, Western and Arab countries to get involved.
Somalis are a very proud people – too proud in some ways, perhaps. We do not like to cry in public for what has happened to our country. But this humanitarian crisis could wipe out a generation of children and it is time the world listened.
I left Somalia 30 years ago with only the clothes on my back. Without the help of aid agencies I would have had nothing. So when you see those pictures of Somali children suffering, you see my face. It is only by the grace of God that I am not in a camp today and that my daughter is not going desperately hungry. Governments have to act now so we can stop these children from dying and give them the chance of a future.