Today CNN's homepage told me that the "U.N. declares famine in Somalia; makes urgent appeal to save lives." Apparently this struggle for food and survival has been going on for some months. I didn't have a clue. Half of Somalians are in crisis, and $300 million is needed to intervene and save lives. CNN's article on the crisis told me that the United Nations has a five-step scale to measure issues of hunger. Somalia is at Stage 5: famine. According to Oxfam, famine is the "triple failure of food production, people's ability to access food and, finally and most crucially in the political response by governments and international donors. Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation - but famine only occurs with political failure." Drought in Somalia has been a significant contributor to the famine, but the nation has been without an actual government for two decades.
(Somali men wait in line to register and receive food at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya in early July. They are among 4,000 to 5,000 Somalis who arrive each week at this complex of three refugee camps in Kenya's North Eastern Province.)
Most of what I know about Somalia according to the American media relates to pirates. I didn't see any pirates in the images on CNN. Just hungry, dirty, and very sad people. I am no US ambassador or foreign aid worker, but I'm wondering how we let it get this bad. I don't give much thought to famines these days. There are three grocery stores within walking distance of my house, and I've never seen them run out of food. When I say "there's no food in the house" or "I'm starving," it doesn't have anything to do with a famine.
When I think about "famine," I think about the experience of famine in the Bible, how Abram fled to Egypt because there was a famine in the land and how Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream about the seven years of feast and seven years of famine. I hardly know how to think about famine today. I think and write a lot about feasting. The Bible is scattered with all sorts of feasts...passover, purim, pentecost, jubilee. I believe that God desires a feast for his people, not famine. But I also know the reality of a broken and fallen world that is continually being redeemed. I believe that God has the power, ability and desire to bring feast to Somalia. And I know that he created us with a reason and a purpose - to be in relationship, to share our resources, to journey, struggle, and celebrate together.
According to CNN, U.N. officials have airlifted emergency supplies and continue to address the issue of bringing aid to Somalia. It is times like these that I feel pretty small, insignificant, and helpless. I don't know any Somalians. I don't work for the U.N. And I don't have a lot of resources to offer. So I am putting my faith in the Master of the Universe - the One who sees and hears his people in feast or famine - and I place my trust in the people of the U.N., Oxfam, and Worldvision - in hopes that soon we will be feasting together.
PS - For ways in which you can help famine victims in East Africa, see this list of organizations mobilizing: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/impact.your.world/