The Costa Concordia cruise line crash off the Italian coast has been this week's top media story, but a far more important story has fallen beneath the radar: Nearly 100,000 people died of hunger in the Horn of Africa in 2011 as a result of flaws within international aid agencies.
While the cruise ship story made for a sensational and dramatic headline to help sell newspapers, the story about Africa stayed on the BBC World News home page only briefly. The crash was indeed significant, but it is disheartening that stories about famine and the international failure to combat it are so undervalued; especially since more coverage of this topic could help save lives.
The story of famine in Africa has been told countless times, and will continue to be told until a permanent solution can be found. And maybe that is the problem. People have simply heard it too many times, and it is no longer news; it’s just seen as a fact. But if newspapers put these stories as their headline article, aid agencies like Save the Children and Oxfam might be able to draw the needed attention to make a significant impact on millions of lives.
Billions of dollars are being spent to fund aid agencies that focus more on reacting to crises than trying to prevent them. The massive drought that effected the Horn of Africa was predicted in 2010, but donors need “proof of a humanitarian catastrophe” before providing money, which requires significant media exposure and attention from the public. As the potential crisis was given no such coverage, aid was not given until July 2011, after the worst of the drought had already hit.
Not only did the drought cause malnutrition and widespread deaths, but an additional 13 million people were affected by the destruction of livestock, livelihood, and the local market system. Most of this tragedy could have been avoided if donors and aid agencies focused on preventative measures instead of reactionary help.
One example of possible preemptive and cost-effective help given in the report published on Tuesday by Oxfam was that “trucking five litres of water per day as a last-resort lifesaving intervention to 80,000 people in Ethiopia costs more than $3 million for five months, compared to $900,000 to prepare water sources in the same area for an oncoming drought.” Unfortunately, a similar situation is now anticipated in the western region of Africa. But if this report and similar stories are not given the necessary coverage, donors will be just as likely to wait until the famine has reached the appropriate level of newsworthiness before giving aid.
While I could write an entire article around this one report alone, I fear people wouldn’t read it. The topic is neither sensational nor headline-worthy compared to the deaths and missing people caused by the cruise disaster.
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