“Here are two facts that should not both be true:
– There is sufficient food produced in the world every year to feed every human being on the planet.
– Nearly 800 million people literally go hungry every day, with more than a third of the earth’s population — 2 billion men and women — malnourished one way or another, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.” Michael Dorris, Rooms in the House of Stone
Last night on a break from writing I followed one of those internet bread crumb trails to a story about the current Somalia famine.
There have been things going around the internet about the current conditions in Somalia, which I’ve sped by as I was looking for quotes or researching for an article.
But last night I let myself stop and take in the impact.
- 6.2 million Somalis need urgent humanitarian aid, approximately half of the country’s population.
- 950,000 children under the age of five will be acutely malnourished this year.
- 185,000 of these children are at risk of death without immediate medical treatment.
6.2 MILLION? Half a country’s population?
And there is more.
An unprecedented crisis is currently gripping Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, threatening the lives of 20 million people, according to the United Nations (UN)
The numbers are overwhelming. And that is just one tiny tip of this iceberg of hunger.
The real devastation is how little we can do.
Because these famines are caused not just by drought, but also by conflict, war, and dislocation, it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible in many cases, to get food where it needs to be.
And lack of food is not the issue. While keeping people from starving is obviously the short term goal, this does nothing to address the long term dynamics that create famines. It is like melting the tip of our iceberg and feeling proud of our hard work, without acknowledging the freezing temperatures and the hundreds of other icebergs floating around us.
As Sharman Apt Russell, author of Hunger: An Unnatural History writes: “In famine, a focus on women and children highlights biology: here is a mother who cannot feed her child, a breakdown in the natural order of life. This focus obscures who and what is to blame for the famine, politically and economically, and can lead to the belief that a biological response, more food, will solve the problem.”
It is easy to turn away, to go back to our own abundance and forget the images and the statistics. Because how can we hold this much heartbreak?
But we must.
Today, acknowledge the bitter, biting cold of sorrows all around us. Not just in Africa, but in your own back yard as well.
Turn to face these sorrows, the heartbreaks of our times.
Let your personal heartbreaks be a tiny bead in this heavy necklace we are all burdened with. May we wear the weight not as a noose of hopelessness, but as a symbol of our love.
Because it is our awareness, our willingness to turn and face the worst horrors with gentleness, tears, and a heart willing to open to hold all of it, that beautifully binds us to our humanity.
May we turn to face the sorrows through the eyes of a parent, with tenderness and grief and love. May we be willing live fully, lavishly, joyfully as we also face the dying and receive them into our arms — the starving babies, the bony children, the terrified mothers, the hopeless fathers. May we keep asking for help to get strong enough and big enough to hold it all.
May we be love.
Thanks to my dear friend Matthew Stillman for the best bagels in NYC this morning and our ongoing conversations around poverty, aid, and grief.
Want to learn more about the roots of poverty? Matthew’s first and only film “The End of Poverty?”, a feature length documentary investigating the origins of poverty, recently won the award “Official Selection of the 2008 Cannes Film Festival – Critics Week” as well as anchoring the first Cannes “Cinema and Politics” day.
You can watch The End of Poverty here: http://streamalone.com/play.php?movie=tt0903943
I haven’t watched it yet, but hear it is devastating and deeply impactful. Another way to learn to stay with the heartbreak of the deeply broken systems we are part of.