The photographs and news reports that have emerged from Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in the last couple of weeks have been truly dreadful. Yet again people in the ‘horn of Africa’ are facing unimaginable hunger and starvation.
The world’s media has finally focused on the situation and descended, mainly on Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in north-east Kenya, near the border with Somalia. The UN and international aid agencies have been both warning and responding, scaling up and launching appeals. People in Britain have already donated £20million to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal; the British government has announced £90million in humanitarian aid over the past two weeks.
I’ve spent much of the last few weeks looking at a lot of the imagery from east Africa, from agency photographers and NGOs, with an increasing sense of despair. Regular readers will know that, together with my colleagues, I spend much of my time generally looking for (and trying to place in the media) photographs, video and multimedia that tell positive stories from Africa – and there are many of them. But not from Dadaab, and certainly not in recent weeks.
So it was with no small amount of surprise when I saw the image above land in my inbox at the weekend. Taken by a colleague who was in Dadaab on Saturday, shot on a mobile phone, it’s one of the most inspirational, uplifting images I’ve seen for a long time. As someone (apologies, I can’t remember who) commented on Twitter, when I first posted the picture on Flickr on Saturday – ‘children truly are amazing’. Of course, these kids are some of the few lucky ones – they’re well enough to be able to play and climb a tree, and their picture serves as only a tiny, brief antidote to the countless, horrific images of malnourished babies and young children. That children can still enjoy the fun of climbing a tree in the midst of what is happening in Dadaab and around the region is nothing short of remarkable.
Maybe it’s quite right that you’d be hard pressed to find any positive imagery about the current crisis in the mainstream media right now. It is after all a truly a desperate situation. The world needs to step in and help avert a humanitarian catastrophe, if it’s not already too late to do so; photography has once again played a part in alerting the world to that need.
Whether this absence of more positive images is right or wrong, whether it involves cliched imagery, editorial agendas, or whatever the reasons are behind it are, these are questions that I don’t feel I can even begin to tackle right now. I’ve tried to write about them and to understand them myself before, and probably will do so again. But not right now.
I drafted the majority of this blog post yesterday, 16 July, but didn’t get around to publishing it. Today comes the sad news that the UN is expected to announce that famine has ‘officially’ returned to parts of Somalia. I had written that ‘we must do whatever we can right now, to prevent this current crisis turning into a catastrophe’ – but perhaps it already is. I’m already conscious how one emotive small word can be.
Earlier this evening I went to the launch of Blue Dot, a new initiative designed to ‘bring volunteering and charitable giving to the digital and mobile consumer’. No, I’m still not entirely sure what this means either. But one statement from the founder, Chris Ward (@chrisatcoffice) stood out: British consumers spent £870million in London’s Westfield shopping mall last year alone.
I don’t know what else to do or say this at the moment other than to urge anyone reading this to donate whatever you can, either to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal (if you’re in the UK), or maybe to the World Food Programme or UNICEF if you’re elsewhere in the world.
I’ve seen for myself how money donated in this way does work (in response to other recent humanitarian emergencies). I’m sure that it will make a difference to someone’s life. It may even help another child to climb a tree one day. Please donate and give whatever you can now.