Hindsight being 20/20…

3 May

After reading a great piece in The Guardian a few weeks back, I felt inspired to cut back a bit on my consumption of news media (yes, I recognize the irony of reading an article that inspired me to read fewer articles). This week I am trying to get back into the world, and the first piece of news I came across was on the massive failure of the international community in responding to one of the worst crises of this century, the Somalia famine.  The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa left 4.6% of Somalia’s population (and one out of 10 children under the age of five) dead. For two years, drastic food shortages wreaked havoc on the population and affected some 13 million people throughout the region as a whole. Much of this damage, however, could have been avoided.

As Aljazeera reports, “The famine was manmade…there was donor fatigue, there was a lack of political will, and the people of Somalia suffered because of the political failure to help the people of Somalia.” While the crisis was exacerbated by militia groups in control of famine-affected areas refusing to let most foreign agencies operate within their territories, the international response was incredibly slow, and for a full year leading up to the crisis, research and forecasts were ultimately ignored worldwide. Peter Greste begs the question, “why for example did it take those dyer images of dying children before significant amounts of aid started flowing in…and what will it take to make donors respond to warnings ahead of the next crisis?”

Well, the next crises are here: from a looming humanitarian disaster in South Sudan already ushering in ‘near famine conditions’, to extreme humanitarian needs compounded by the recent coup in Central African Republic, to the staggering humanitarian disaster in Syria spilling over into surrounding regions. These crises are here, and they are real, and they are not showing any signs of improvement. Thinking about this international neglect conjures images of the international community and the Clinton administration’s failure to act on warning signs, eye-witness testimony and video documentation of the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, for which Bill Clinton later apologized.

Is it acceptable practice in modern times to simply turn away while a crisis unfolds in some remote region of the world, and then apologize for our negligence after it has taken its toll on hundreds of thousands of lives? Are these crises really that easy to ignore? Without sufficient geopolitical interest in a given region, will the international community continue to turn a blind eye to these events, only to rise to a podium down the road and say “Ooops, our bad. We should have acted on the plethora of facts and evidence we had a little earlier. Sorry!”

What’s further disheartening about this pattern is the fact that as emerging researchers and practitioners, we at HREC like to believe that the information we reveal to the world will be used to abate violations of human rights and alleviate human suffering. How does research and the collection of data transcend obscurity and make its way into the international psyche to the extent that concerted action is taken to prevent these stains on our collective human experience? How do we learn from our mistakes and transform hindsight into foresight?

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One Response to “Hindsight being 20/20…”

  1. georgina May 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Disheartening stats: according to the UN about 133,000 of the Somalis who have died in the famine were children under five.

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