Sunday, August 2, 2015

Social Media: Whose Cause is More Important?


The course has finished but I thoroughly enjoyed it and lately there's been something that has really gotten to me so I thought I'd post about it.

In the past couple of weeks, two pretty horrible things have happened - first this...

The Deaths of Black Women While in Police Custody in the US

African American women dying in police custody, something horrendous that I'm sure has happened before, but now with social media and it's ability to shine light on the injustices in our society it's something that people are learning more about and are understandably outraged.

And secondly, this...

The Hunting of Cecil the Lion

A lion involved in a research project was killed illegally in Zimbabwe, skinned and beheaded by an American dentist to the tune of $50,000.

One of the most important lessons that I learned throughout the last semester of my Masters is that when you're dealing with public health issues, everyone has their own idea of where the money and attention should go.  For some, it's HIV/AIDS, for others it's chronic illnesses, mental health, child nutrition and education, the list goes on.  This issue was ever present in our disaster scenarios, for some, it was all about saving the most vulnerable in communities- the children....  Oh, how some people wanted to save the children before anyone else and shame on anyone who thought differently.  I mean, how could they not want to save these helpless babes?

But, then again, children left to their own devices with no parents to care for them will probably have a tough road ahead of them.  Children alone can't rebuild a community and the fact of the matter is that because children are helpless, they are also considered...  well, a burden (yes, I know it's not PC to say that, but in disaster scenarios you have to think about saving people who will be assets to the rebuilding process, you also have to think about who is most likely to survive-> save as many as you can-> children struggle to look after themselves and may not last long with no one to care for them).

The reason that I bring this up is that the people in our class all had different backgrounds, experiences, professions and opinions about where the resources should go and that was never more evident than when you put them in a group and asked them to come up with a disaster management scenario.  Essentially, when they were told: "decide who lives and who dies-> who matters most?" needless to say, all hell broke loose.

What the process of working in disaster management teams taught me was that you don't get very far when you point at someone and say: "your opinions are invalid, the things that you value, your beliefs and what you decide to give attention to are ridiculous in the face of this other issue that anyone with half a brain could clearly see is so much more important".  Generally, you just end up starting an argument, the group becomes divided and people get really defensive.  It's pretty hard to be productive with people feeling that way.

If we're talking about a scale of importance, I would personally put human lives above all else.  But, that's just my view.  Those women were the loves of peoples' lives, they were daughters, sisters, friends and they had dreams of what their lives would be.  They've been ripped from this world forever and those dreams will never become a reality.

I'm also an animal lover and I think that what happened to the lion is pretty awful.

The fact is that I could spend my entire life arguing the ridiculousness of laws in America- the craziest of which of course is the right to bear arms.  There really is no need to have a fail safe "right" to mount a militia in case the government turns on its own people.  For one thing it goes entirely against the government's own best interest to turn against its people, plus, they have drones and the most powerful army in the world- I hardly think arming yourself with a hand gun or even several semi-automatic is going to make a whole lot of difference.  I could go on and on about how people are more likely to be on the receiving end of their own firearm than protecting themselves with it, but at this stage all arguments seem moot.  The bigger issue is that instead of building communities that take care of each other, it creates ones in which people are afraid of one another.  It implies that at some stage, someone is going to attack you (also with a gun- because, well, they're allowed to have one), so you need to arm yourself.  It's likely that someone in your community at some stage is going to try and kill you and your family, so you NEED a gun.  Naturally, paranoia ensues.

But, what else does this law do?  In short, it gives people an excuse to hide behind when they shoot someone.  What we consistently see happening as a result is African Americans being shot and the police/armed individuals shooting them claiming that they "thought they had a gun"- and most of the time, that's enough to get them off.  Someone loses their life for no real reason, but in a society where everyone is paranoid, it seems like reasonable thought has led way to: "oh, you thought that person may have a weapon even though he didn't and you never actually saw one?  good thing you shot him first!!  Especially since he's not white, naturally you had to assume that he would have a gun."  Now that person gets to be someone who was just scared and protecting themselves rather than a murderer.

If we look at the statistics, African Americans are more likely to be shot than any other group in America, yet they themselves are far less likely to be gun owners compared to their caucasian counterparts.  This fact is even more interesting when you think about who makes up the biggest proponent of gun rights in the US - rich white men.  Tackling the race problem in the US has already taken decades and unfortunately barring some miracle will likely take more and there's no law that will magically change things.  But, at least getting rid of guns would take away the excuse most often provided in the case of shooting an unarmed black man (or woman) -> "I thought they were armed".  Instead the person who takes that life is held responsible without a get out of jail free card and I'm betting that would give police officers pause before they pull the trigger.

Anyways, now social media has started to pit both of these incidents against each other in a sort of "you think that's bad, you're so far off the mark and now I'm going to tell you about what you should be angry about!" as if the weight of those stories should have ever been on equal footing to begin with.  Part of the trouble is that people don't like being told they're wrong or that they've got their priorities mixed up.  So, instead of yielding support for both and recognising the importance of each and trying to figure out what to do about them, we're arguing about which is more important.  It's sort of the equivalent of: "Oh yeah?  you think your day was bad?  Let me tell you about mine and we'll see whose was worse!"  Instead of just listening to each other and recognising the value in what the other person went through and saying "that's awful, tell me more and maybe we can talk about how to change that"

Now, let's look at the lion poaching incident.  The details of the killing were released immediately as part of the story and they are pretty gruesome- it's hard not to feel a bit sick picturing the lion's head mounted on a wall somewhere.  But, if we look beyond what exactly happened to the lion itself, we see that it's not just an animal rights issue.  The fact is that there are local people who risk their lives defending the wildlife in Africa every single day.  They are often modestly armed and trained and they're up against expert poachers.  It's an extremely dangerous job and the truth of the matter is that it would be much more financially lucrative for them as individuals to help the poachers instead.  In a place where money goes so far and has so much sway, it says a lot that they are willing to risk their lives for the protection of wildlife and a significantly smaller paycheck.

Why is it important that they do this job?  Sustainability.  If the wildlife isn't properly protected, that will likely mean fewer jobs for future national park workers and less money for the economies of those countries.   They're looking at the situation long-term, less money now for them as individuals, but hopefully more money for their communities in the long run, maybe even higher education and jobs for their children and grandchildren.  In short, there are people risking their lives for this daily, people who have died and will die in the process of protecting these animals while others are spending their lives studying them to help ensure that those species have a future.  As a researcher, I know how much my work has meant to me- the sweat, tears and time away from my family- so I can only imagine what it means to have invested 13 years into a subject to have it's life and the results of your data end that way.

Yet another comparison that has been made is between the lion poaching and a photo taken of a starving child during the Sudanese famine in the 90s.  The photo in question was of a small malnourished child crouching as a vulture stood in wait in the background.  That photo is routinely included the lists of the most important historical photos ever taken.  It brought about a tremendous amount of emotion in people around the world and the public outcry that it sparked not only shaped the public's view of that famine and the situation in Sudan, but altered the very way that people think about the ethics of taking photos of individuals in times of crisis.   For the first time in history, a discussion occurred about the responsibility of a photographer to his or her subjects.   Should he have tried to help the child?  Was it unethical to photograph the child in such a state, especially if he didn't help her?  What about that child's dignity?  Or the dignity of that child's family and community?  Did the photographer take advantage of that awful situation?  Or, was the fact that he was taking that photo to raise awareness that would likely lead to more aid enough to warrant his actions?

The photograph went on to win the Pulitzer, one of the most prestigious awards our society has.  But, the controversy over the photo, the response that it received in the court of public opinion combined with the guilt that the photographer felt over the situation led him to commit suicide not long after.  To say that no one cared about the girl in that photo or the situation in the Sudan (especially once they saw evidence of the devastation) is just an outright lie and a pretty offensive one at that.  That photo had more repercussions than anyone could have ever imagine.  What we learned from it should shape the way all individuals take photos of people in crisis moving forward.

Famine is always the result of both human and natural factors and it was as true for the Irish potato famine as it was in Somalia between 2011 and 2012.  Conflict, poor political management of resources, etc, all mean that despite advance knowledge of upcoming food shortages, it's often dangerous and/or futile to try and get aid to those areas.  In the end, it's not really a situation where you can just blindly throw money or attention at the problem to make it go away, but more an issue of trying to figure out the best way to approach the problem.  In Somalia, the most effective approach to providing aid ended up being via Muslim countries and organisations- as it turned out, Al-Shabaab didn't have as much of a problem allowing them in to provide help, they trusted them.  Ultimately, that trust allowed those organisations to access people in desperate need of aid.  It wasn't the approach that would have typically been taken, but it worked.  Most people have no idea know nothing of the details of the famine in Somalia or what organisations were the most effective, that doesn't mean they didn't care or want to help.

The human race isn't that bad, people do care, but sometimes they feel so helpless about a situation that they would rather not think about it for too long.

So, why am I writing this?  Because I think there are so many issues deserving of our attention, from what's happening to African American communities in the States to the rebuilding of communities in Nepal to the plight of Wildlife in the Serengeti.  But, I think we miss the mark when we make it about which one is more important, or which one deserves the most "likes" or "#hashtags" - all of the sudden it's not about that issue anymore, it's about comparing ourselves to others.  Now we're criticising each other instead of the people who committed the horrible acts to begin with, the very people who should in fact be at the receiving end of our collective outrage and derision.

If we're going to rally against the ridiculousness of what society considers important based on #social media trends, I think we focus our energy on criticising the continuous presence of say, the Kardashians in, well, everything.  Somebody named Khloe came to Australia to promote something or other and that was apparently newsworthy...?  The other day the news station we watch in the morning spent 10 minutes on why Prince George was wearing a similar outfit to the one that his dad wore 30 years ago and what that says about the royal family.  TEN.  MINUTES.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Final Post: The Key Points That I Will Remember About Disaster Management

For my last post, I’ve decided to put together a summary of the key pieces of information that I have taken away from this course regarding disaster impacts and management.  In particular, I wanted to make sure that I included topics and any other bits that I did not have a chance to discuss in my other posts.

Disaster can either occur as a result of natural process, man-made ones or a combination of both (hybrid).

Prior to disaster

Appropriate prevention and disaster preparedness activities are the most effective and efficient ways to avoid the significant impacts of disasters on health, livelihoods and infrastructure.

Disaster relief

Organisations should never enter a country to provide aid without being expressly asked by its government, unless there is no stable government and/or the United Nations declares a state of disaster.

Aid organisations should operate through and in conjunction with the local whenever and however possible.  Local governments should be encouraged to lead the efforts and supported in doing so.  

The specific of the organisation’s role and responsibilities should be explicitly outlined and agreed to by the agency and host country early on (although this might be amended depending on the circumstances).  A time frame for the completion of activities should also be established and agreed upon.

It is important to promote the autonomy and independence of the host nation and its people.  Do not treat the populations receiving assistance like they are helpless and get them involved in response efforts and activities as much as possible.

Proceed in accordance with all applicable international and domestic laws as well as the code of ethics of your organisation and any other rules or agreements that are in place. 

Response efforts should also follow the rights and guidelines of the Humanitarian Charter and the Protection principles outlined in the Sphere Handbook.  Ensure that everyone has equal access to assistance and security.  Avoid any activities or behaviors that may compromise the dignity of individuals or put them at risk of further danger.

When providing assistance, be sure to follow the core standards outlined by the Sphere project in the Sphere Handbook.  Some key standards are

  •      Minimum 15 liters of water per person per day for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene and house cleaning.
  •      Households should be no further than 500 meters from a water point.
  •      Wait time at water source should not exceed 30 minutes.
  •      250 people per tap, 500 people per hand pump and 400 people per single-user open well
(Sphere 2011)

Hygiene and Sanitation:
  •      Provision of feminine hygiene products for menstruation
  •      Water containers (two 10-20 liters containers per household, one for storage and one for transport)
  •      250 grams of bathing soap and 200 grams of laundry soap per person per month.
  •      One toilet for no more than 20 people and toilets are no more than 50 meters away (although the number of people per toilet changes in public settings, see page 130 of the Sphere Handbook).  The different types of toilets for different situations are outlined on page 109.
(Sphere 2011)

Food and Nutrition:
  • Minimum nutritional requirements for a population include: 2,100 kcals per person per day, 10% of which is protein and 17% of which is fat.  Adequate micronutrient intake is also essential.
  • Ready-to-Use supplements such as plumpy sup (peanut-based paste) can be given to children affected by or at risk of malnutrition to increase their caloric intake.
(Sphere 2011)

  • People must be provided with a covered living space that offers protection from the elements outside including precipitation, wind and disease vectors.  Other amenities such as toilet facilities should be close by.
  • Shelters should be appropriate to the season and situational context (i.e. temporary shelter, transitional shelter or permanent shelter).
  • Whenever possible, people should be involved in the construction of their own shelters.
(Sphere 2011)

Non-Food Items:
  •       Blankets, clothing, fuel, lighting and cooking and cleaning supplies, etc should be provided to help maintain the health and dignity of individuals and provide comfort.
  •       The items and the materials they are made of should be appropriate to the situation, which may require some consideration.
(Sphere 2011)

Health Action:
  • Health assessments (usually performed in the initial relief wave), mass vaccinations and the management of communicable diseases and any other serious threats to health.
  • There should be at least:
    • 22 qualified health workers (doctors, nurses and midwives) per 10,000 people.
    • One doctor per 50,000.
    • One nurse and one midwife per 10,000.
    • One community health worker per 1,000.
    • Clinicians should not regularly see more than 50 patients a day.
  • Field hospitals may be necessary if existing hospitals are too damaged and mobile clinics may be required for reaching isolated communities.
  • If measles vaccination coverage in children aged 9 months to 5 years appears to be less than 90%, is unknown or not clear, a vaccination campaign should be carried out.  Priority should be given to those aged 6 to 59 months, but vaccination coverage could be widened to reach children up to 15 years of age.
(Sphere 2011)

It is also important to address:

Sexual and reproductive health, including everything from contraception to the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS) to treatment for victims of rape and/or assault. 

The mental health of disaster victims and witnesses to facilitate their recovery and help them return to being productive and healthy individuals.

Severe injuries and long-term disabilities.  It is no use fixing someone’s broken hip if they do not receive the therapy to help him or her return to an adequate level of functioning afterwards.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, which can complicate and hinder the recovery of patients and the population as a whole.

HIV/AIDS prevalence will be a concern for relief efforts, as it will make people more vulnerable to various conditions including malnutrition.  Those infected may suffer from discrimination because of their status.  Finally, if not handled properly, the situation could also exacerbate transmission among the population and humanitarian workers.

Family unity.  Getting families back together so that they can look out for each other and care for each other as they recover.

Important/vulnerable groups to look out for:

Children – particularly vulnerable to the impacts of disasters because they are still growing and developing, have few resources and little advocating power.  They are also vulnerable to abduction if separated from their families.

The elderly - their age often means that they cannot move as fast as those who are younger to escape disaster scenarios.  They may have various conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or osteoporosis for which they may require medication.  Those conditions will make them even more vulnerable overall and may make the recovery process harder for them.  Older people are also often viewed as being more expendable because of their age and the fact that they have “lived a good long life”.

Women – are more at risk of suffering from severe impacts during a disaster (they may have to look after the children and therefore struggle to take care of themselves).  They are also at increased risk of sexual and/or gender-based violence.

Transgender, homosexual and bisexual people – are at increased risk of discrimination and violent attacks.

People with disabilities or special needs – are at increased risk because they may not be able to help themselves as easily as others during a disaster.  However, it is imperative that they are treated the same way anyone else would be (i.e. no

Ethnic or cultural minorities – could be at risk of discrimination and/or violence, particularly during conflict or very culturally tense situations. 

Refugees and displaced persons – are extremely vulnerable to a number of problems including the spread of communicable diseases, violence (possibly conflict or ethnicity-related), discrimination, mental distress, malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, etc.  Displaced individuals and refugees may remain so for decades.

Humanitarian staff – are vulnerable to communicable diseases, physical and mental exhaustion (or burnout), psychological and physical trauma, violence and abduction.  It is the responsibility of aid agencies to adhere to best practices when it comes keeping staff members safe and healthy (of body and of mind).  This is particularly helpful if you want staff members to stay or come back to work for your organisation.  They should be monitored for various conditions, be offered counseling and appropriate rest periods and opportunities to grow professionally.  In turn, staff members are expected to follow the rules and regulation established by their organisation to ensure that they are providing assistance in an appropriate and safe manner.  This also helps protect the organisation’s reputation and their future ability to provide humanitarian aid.

It is beneficial to, whenever possible, incorporate strategies that will help with the long-term recovery in the relief stage.

Successfully and efficiently providing these services will depend strongly on good organization, preparation, communication and coordination within and between agencies.  It will also rely heavily on the logistics of getting the right resources and people to the right place at the right time safely (which is why logisticians are so highly valued).  The Red Cross Red Crescent has a great website for browsing the emergency relief items that they have available in their catalogue:


Recovery is the least researched but longest part of disaster response.  There can easily be gaps that form in the provision of services during the transition from relief to recovery as external assistance begins to pull out of the area.  It is important for more permanent local service providers to try and fill these gaps as soon as possible.  It is generally a long and arduous process that receives a lot less funding than the initial relief phase, yet it is the most important in terms of getting populations to return to normal life and building resiliency in case of future disasters.

A final word...

This course, while at times overwhelming, has really opened my eyes to the various health impacts of disaster in addition to all of the factors that need to be considered when preparing for and managing a crisis.  In the end, I rated all of my course objectives 4-5 out of 5.  The only thing that I still feel uncomfortable with was the in-class disaster response assignment.  Many of my group members were confused about what we were expected to do, which clearly showed when it came time to present.  I thought that I had managed to figure out my section, but as the marks and feedback were given for the combined group effort, I am still unsure about whether or not I was in fact successful.  I feel all of the information that I have taken in will be of great use to me if I ever find myself working in a disaster scenario or in a disaster-related sector (i.e. emergency preparedness, relief or recovery).  However, I think until I actually am put in that situation, it is not possible for me to know how prepared I truly am.  My guess is that reality would be somewhat different to what we did in class or read about.


The Sphere Project 2011, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, 3rd edn, The Sphere Project, Geneva.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ethics and the Use of Images

While reading the course study guide I came across a section that mentioned the ethics behind using images of human suffering to raise awareness and funds.  The section also included a reading on the topic.

This particular topic has been of interest to me for a number of years, ever since my first trip to Africa in 2009.  I went to Ghana with an organisation called Unite for Sight as part of an internship for my undergraduate degree and prior to my acceptance into the program and subsequent deployment I had to do a training course.  The training included readings, assignments, work with a professional optometrist as well as a final exam.  Included within the training material was a great deal of information regarding the organisation’s code of ethics and in particular, their stance on taking of photographs in the field and the use of those images.

Looking back, I could not be more grateful for the insight they gave me.  They instilled in me the belief that photographs should be taken with the utmost consideration for the people and circumstances being photographed.  Not to put too fine a point on it, they are still people, suffering or not.  They are not works of art in a museum or animals in a zoo and preserving their dignity is not only imperative, but also part of respecting their fundamental rights as human beings under international law.  I was taught that unless I truly believed that a photograph would greatly benefit them and/or the situation of their population through a significant increase in funds, I should not take it.  The article by Calain appears to come to the same conclusion.  As Calain states, the ethics involved of providing medical care are inherently at odds with the normal practices used to obtain support for humanitarian aid (2013). While it is important to stand witness and advocate for the needs of the populations requiring assistance, the value of using images to do so in each situation should be thoughtfully and carefully weighed against the potential impacts on human dignity.  Unless documenting circumstances of suffering will lead to considerable benefits that will help to improve the situation, health professionals should avoid taking and sharing photographs of people suffering.

Unite for Sight also taught me to wait for consent from the individual(s) or their parents/guardians and to try to make sure that I avoided taking photographs of emotionally or physically painful circumstances that they did not want documented.  After all, I was there as someone providing a health service, not as a journalist.  Even if I had been a journalist...  Just because someone else has employed you to take photos and write stories of people does not give you carte blanche to violate the rights of individuals to privacy, consent and dignity.  The end (which is often to get people to notice that people are suffering and having their rights violated) does not justify the means if you are also causing them pain and violating their right to not be photographed (or their family member's right, i.e. children or someone who is unconscious or has passed away).  In my case, I was seeing some people at their most vulnerable and taking a photograph of that would have been a violation of their trust in the organisation I represented and myself as a volunteer.  Ultimately, I began asking myself: “Would I be alright with someone taking this photo of me?  Would I feel okay or happy with the way my life and my situation are being portrayed?  Can I say for certain that taking this photo will lead to a significant positive change for that person and their people?  Is this photo necessary or beneficial?".  That line of questioning has been my litmus test for taking photos ever since.  But above else, the decision belongs to the individual and/or their family, especially in a sensitive situation.  If they say no, then it's no dice.  That is the Golden rule.

In my opinion, the ethics of using images has never been more important or pertinent in history than it is now with social media and the ease with which images can be shared around the globe.  Having spent a total of over five months in Africa working with volunteer organisations, I have realised that not everyone understands the value of taking a moment to think before they point their camera, click and share.  At one point I watched as teachers working at a nearby school walked through the hospital that I was working at, cameras in hand, photographing everything and everyone in sight.  They spent no more than a half an hour at the hospital and when I had asked what they were doing there, they said they had simply wanted to “see what the hospital looked like and take photos so they could show people back home”.  Ultimately, there was no benefit for the patients to being photographed in the vulnerable states they were in.  Had I been the outspoken woman that I am now, I would have pointed out to them that there were people dying and suffering in the hospital and that taking photos of patients would not be acceptable in their own countries so why should it be anywhere else?  For some of the patients and their families, it was one of the worst days of their lives.  The hospital was a place to receive care and treatment, not a tourist attraction.  To this day, not standing up for the patients in that situation remains one of my biggest regrets.

In short, the point is that you should not have to violate someone's human rights to get other people to care about human rights being violated.



Calain P 2013, ‘Ethics and images of suffering bodies in humanitarian medicine’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 98, no. 2013, pp. 278-285.


Final Assignment Plan

The following is the plan that I have put together for my final assignment in this course with amendments inspired by the feedback that I received included at the end.

Essay Plan

Title:                Foreseen Disaster: A Critical Analysis of the International Response in Relation to the 2011 Famine in Somalia

Question: What was the international response to the growing food crisis in Somalia, how was it influenced by contextual factors and how did it shape the course of the disaster?

Introduction (200 words)

·     Poor back-to-back rainy seasons in 2010 and 2011 caused severe drought and reduced harvests in the eastern Horn of Africa affecting an estimated 13 million people (Slim 2012).
·     The responses to the food shortages in Ethiopia and Kenya enabled both countries to prevent catastrophic consequences (Slim 2010). 
·     However, various factors including political insecurity, armed conflict and operating restrictions complicated aid efforts and exacerbated the crisis in Somalia (Checchi & Robinson 2013; Slim 2012).
·     Despite early warnings of forthcoming disaster, the situation continued to deteriorate without substantial intervention for 11 months before famine was declared.  The delayed response to the emergency has been deemed responsible for additional casualties.
·     Ultimately, the 2011 famine in Somalia resulted in approximately 258,000 deaths, a devastating rise in malnutrition rates and 417,000 displaced persons (Checchi & Robinson 2013; Lautze et al. 2012).

Overview of Events

Timeline (250 words)

·     August 2010, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) sent out the first warning of a probable drought in the area.
·     Poor rainy seasons from October to December 2010 (second or third in a row for some areas) resulted in poor harvests in January, increased cereal prices and decreased livestock production.
·     Warnings from Food Security and Nutritional Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and other organizations continued for 11 months.
·     Poor rainy season again from April to June 2011 led to crop failures and excess livestock mortality.
·     Drought in the area worst in 60 years; food prices reached a record high.
·     UN declares famine in two areas of Somalia on June 20th, 2011.
·     Famine declared in three additional areas on August 3rd, 2011 and one more on September 5th, 2011.
·     Increases in aid, good October and December rains in 2011 and lower food prices led to the official end of the famine on February 3rd, 2012.

Impacts of the Disaster (250 words)

·     An estimated 258,000 deaths.
·     Widespread malnutrition.
·     Long-term health and economic impacts of malnutrition, especially for children.
·     420,000 million displaced persons (253,000 left for Kenya and Ethiopia, 167,000 were internally displaced).
·     Outbreaks of cholera, measles and shigella, particularly among Somali famine refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya.
·     Violence against Somali women fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya.
·     Insecurity in refugee camps.
·     Psychological and emotional impacts of the famine.

Response (300 words)

·     Very little was done before the declaration of famine.
·     After the declaration, the anti-terror-related aid restrictions were lifted and there was a sharp and marked increase in funding.
·     Amount of funding raised was $1.3 billion.
·     Organisations involved (Islamic States and humanitarian groups, NGOs and UN agencies)
·     Details of cluster system, the UN’s Consolidated Appeal (CAP) and aid distribution in Somalia.
·     Various methods of aid used including cash and vouchers.

Context of Response (700 words)

Historical and Political Environment

·     History of conflict, drought, crippling poverty and lack of stable government made Somalia particularly vulnerable to disaster.
·     Previous famine in 1991-1992 caused by conflict, 200,000 deaths deemed preventable.
·     Al-Shabbab presence controlling areas creating a dangerous environment for aid workers and interfering with efforts.
·     European and U.S. anti-terror restrictions were imposed and organizations began pulling out of the area because of the conflict and fear of accusations of aiding terrorist forces.  However, these actions reduced the country’s capacity to react to the drought and rising food prices.

Economic Factors

·     Global recession affected availability of resources and the willingness of donors.
·     Donors and organizations limited their funding due to anti-terror initiatives.

Social Factors

·     Other events were occurring around the world at the same time that received more attention (i.e. political uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as the separation of South Sudan).
·     There was a general sense of complacency about humanitarian issues in Somalia, meaning that widespread concern and action were not generated until circumstances were dire.
·     Organisations focused on distributing aid in circumstances where they could clearly see results.

Critique of Response

Successes of the Systems (200 words)

·     Early warning systems functioned well and recognised the forthcoming disaster well in advance.
·     Once famine was declared, the international community worked relatively quickly and effectively to better the situation.
·     Intervention methods eventually used were appropriate.

Shortcomings of the Systems (400 words)

·     No action was taken to prevent famine despite early warnings.
·     Delays in announcing famine: conditions were worse than the famine threshold at the time of declaration in impacted areas.
·     Limited access to areas and lack of humanitarian presence on the ground.
·     Organisations and countries lacked faith in fieldworker reports and analysts’ warnings that circumstances would be worse than a “normal bad year” and were more concerned with politics than the humanitarian agenda.
·     There was no real plan for action once famine was declared without the World Food Program (WFP) present in Somalia.

Lessons Learned (300 words)
·    The delay in the response to the growing food shortage and foreseen outcomes ultimately contributed to the course of the disaster by failing to prevent the famine.
·    The need to continue improving and utilising early warning systems.
·    Most importantly, ensuring that action follows early warnings before disaster hits in circumstances when famine is imminent.
·    Islamic States and organisations were able to function more easily in Somalia than Christian groups.

·      Conclusion (200 words)

·     Summary of the famine, response and consequences in Somalia.
·     Likelihood of more frequent extreme events including drought and food shortages in the future due to climate change.
·     Statement that famine is avoidable with appropriate intervention.
·     Considerations for improving response (perhaps lowering the threshold at which situation is considered a catastrophe).
·     Importance of learning from the 2011 famine in Somalia to better future responses.


Bailey, R 2013, Managing Famine Risk: Linking Early Warning to Early Action, A Chatham House Report, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, viewed 29 December 2014, <>.
BBC 2011, Somali famine spreads to three more areas says UN, viewed 17 December 2014, <>.
Checchi, F & Robinson, WC 2013, Mortality among populations of southern and central Somalia affected by severe food insecurity and famine during 2010-2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), Rome, Washington, viewed 17 December 2014, <>
FAO, IFAD & WFP 2014, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition, FAO, Rome, viewed 29 December 2014, <>.
Haan, N, Devereux, S & Maxwell, D 2012, ‘Global implications of Somalia 2011 for famine prevention, mitigation and response’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 74-79.
Hillbruner, C & Moloney, G 2012, ‘When early warning is not enough-Lessons learned from the 2011 Somalia Famine’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 20-28.
IPC Global Partners 2008, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Technical Manual, Version 1.1, FAO, Rome, viewed 28 December, 2014, <>.
Lautze, S, Bell, W, Alinovi, L & Russo, L 2012, ‘Early warning, late response (again): The 2011 famine in Somalia’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 43-49.
Menkhaus, K 2012, ‘No access: Critical bottlenecks in the 2011 Somali famine’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 29-35.
Majid, N & McDowell, S 2012, ‘Hidden dimensions of the Somalia famine’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 36-42.
Maxwell, D & Fiztpatrick, M 2012, ‘The 2011 Somalia famine: Context, causes and complications’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 5-12.
McCloskey Rebelo, E, Pros, M-A, Renk, S, Guduri, S & Hailey, P 2012, ‘Nutritional response to the 2011 famine in Somalia’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 64-73.
Penuel, KB, Statler, M & Hagen, R 2013, Encyclopedia of Crisis Management, SAGE Publications, Inc., viewed 29 December, 2014, DOI, (SAGE knowledge).
Salama, P, Moloney, G, Bilukha, OO, Talley, L, Maxwell, D, Hailey, P, Hillbruner, C, Masese-Mwirigi, L, Odundo, E & Golden, MH 2012, ‘Famine in Somalia: Evidence for a declaration’, Global Food Security, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 13-19.
Seal, A & Bailey, R 2013, ‘The 2011 Famine in Somalia: lessons learnt from a failed response?’, Conflict and Health, vol. 7, no. 22, pp. 1-5.
Slim, H 2012, IASC Real-Time Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response to the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Synthesis Report, Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).


After reading the feedback on my plan from my peers and my professor, I wanted to include a little bit more information here.

My thesis sentence was absent in the first draft so I have put two potential ones together:

"Political, social and economic factors severely influenced the international response to the growing food crisis in Somalia, which as a result, failed to avert famine and thus contributed to the development of the disaster."


"Political, social and economic factors significantly delayed any real action on from the international community in response to the growing food crisis in Somalia, which ultimately allowed the famine to take place."

I have not decided which one that I prefer just yet.  The point that I am trying to get across is that because of political, social and economic factors and despite ample warning, the international community failed to stop the famine in Somalia from occurring.  Ultimately, the international community is partly responsible for the situation deteriorating to the point of disaster.

A colleague of mine also mentioned that I should include more information about what the international response actually was and I thought this was a good idea.  In truth, there was no real response other than warnings of an impending disaster until famine was actually declared.  The only thing that I could find was that the WPF increased the number of soup kitchens they had in Mogadishu from 16 to 23 and nutritional screeners were introduced to each of them in the lead up to the famine.  Unfortunately, it was not until the state of famine was declared that the international community really jumped into gear.  So here are some of the stats that I could find about the response:

•  After the declaration, $1.3 billion dollars was raised for Somalia. $800 million passed through the UN’s Consolidated Appeal (CAP system) and $50 million of which came from Saudi Arabia alone.  Turkey also contributed $365 million to the efforts of Somalia utilising a new model founded on the principle of solidarity between Muslim countries.
•  The money raised for Ethiopia and Kenya also had to be used to support the Somali refugees who fled to those countries.
•  Feeding sites (wet and dry) were established at the main points along the migration routes near the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders.  Wet feeding sites provided porridge made with fortified blended flour and oil 2-3 times per day as well as hygiene promotion, de-worming, diarrhoea treatment, vitamin A supplementation and acute malnutrition screening.  At dry sites, families were given High Energy Biscuit (HEB) and children under the age of five were provided with Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) (i.e. plumpy sup)
According to McCloskey Rebelo et al. (2012), the programs were targeted at 4 different groups: people who were fleeing, people in Mogadishu, people in rural areas affected by drought and other vulnerable groups.
•  The WFP stated that it had provided 1.5 million people with food assistance in the year following the declaration
•  In July 2012, the WFP also stated that 15,000 people in central areas were now receiving food vouchers to buy food in the market.  This is interesting because the WFP was initially reluctant to use food vouchers prior to the declaration of famine, but once it was declared the WFP could no longer deny the use of that option.

Obviously this is a great deal of information about the response and it is unlikely that I will be able to use all of it, but I do believe that it will be beneficial to use some and as a result I'm pretty grateful for the feedback that I received.