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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why are we abandoning these starving children?

12th January 2012
Editorial cartoon

Our attention is yet again drawn to the plight of a part of humankind living precariously close to starvation chiefly following devastating drought with little precedent in this part of the world – the East Africa region.

This is going by distress signals sent by the international aid agency Save the Children earlier this week to the worldwide public. It said things are so bad that it will have to get emergency funding or the 250,000 children it feeds every month will relapse into malnutrition or even death for lack of food, clean water and healthcare.

Records show that the agency has been both reactive and proactive, that is, providing the needy with relief supplies alongside helping families and communities prepare better for future emergencies through access to agricultural tools, training and the benefits of early warning systems.

Tanzania is no stranger to the physical and other damage that inclement weather in the form of floods, drought, earthquakes, etc., can inflict on humankind, particularly especially disadvantaged or vulnerable groups or segments such as senior citizens, children and people with disabilities.

It has over the decades experienced loss of life and limb as well as destruction of property and infrastructure chiefly resulting from “vengeance” by forces of nature. Fortunately, the damage has not been of proportions as massive as has happened in various other parts of the world.

Additionally, the government has often chipped in soon enough with emergency aid to spare the lives of people short of basic needs such as food, water and medical supplies.

But we would be awfully wrong were we to believe that we are permanently immune from the misery Save the Children is raising alarm about. The suffering of those now languishing in deprivation and poverty is ours too and so we ought to take the agency’s appeals very seriously, at least by taking appropriate precautions and helping out with relief supplies.

It doesn’t have to be tonnes of rice, cartons of cooking fat or cash injections to the tune of millions of shillings. Kind words accompanying a donation in the form of a few clothes and exercise books as well as tents for shelter and a little food will often work miracles by saving and changing otherwise hopeless lives.

Those with particularly long memories will not have forgotten the hugely enlightening poster UNICEF published on the occasion of the launch of the 1993 State of the World’s Children – on Six Ways to Spend USD25 Billion a Year.

A few of the options: halve child malnutrition in the world, eradicate polio, make family planning available to all couples, and provide basic education for all children.

But it was also noted that the amount was less than the US spends on cigarettes every six months and Europe on alcohol every three months - and just about as much as developing countries spend every six months on the wages of their military.

Save the Children needs a mere USD 193 million to counter the dehumanisingly cruel effects of East Africa’s worst drought in six decades, including saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of starving children. It is an appeal the world must heed.

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