2021-2022 Trócaire Annual ReportLearn More
Ruth Mwangi, Trócaire Resilience Programme Officer tells Tommy Tiernan about a Trócaire food security programme run on a farm next to Jazira IDP camp in Luug, Gedo Region, Somalia. Photo: Miriam Donohoe
I left Luuq, a town in Gedo region in southern Somalia, at noon. Twenty-four hours later I was on the M50 in Dublin. I’m not sure how many thousands of miles I travelled but I do know the length of time it took me to do it. A day. Everything that I saw is just a day away.
I was in a hospital and I saw a woman come in and lay her baby on a bed. A doctor came over and we were asked to leave. Word came through later on that the child had died. From hunger.
We were taken to an area outside the town where tens of thousands of people were camped. Their crops had failed and their animals had died so they’d walked for days to get here. A man I was talking to had buried one of his kids by the side of the road during the journey knowing that if they’d stopped to grieve properly more of his children would die. Digging a hole into the dirt with his bare hands. His family watching. The child wrapped in a cloth. Two of his other small children on the verge of severe malnutrition. His wife unable to breastfeed them because her milk has dried up.
An old man said to me: “It has never been as bad as this. All I do is think of the past.” I asked him did he blame anyone and he said: ‘No, it is God’s will and only God can save us.’”
I passed the entrance of a tent and a baby lying on the ground looked like the one I’d seen in the hospital earlier that day. He was lying in the shade with his mother, on the edge of death. A victim of logistics.
Hundreds of thousands of children may die before the year is out and they will all be victims of logistics. There is food, there just isn’t the global will to get it to them. Governments have other priorities.
The Government of Ireland has for years broken its promises. In 1974 when Garret FitzGerald was the minister for foreign affairs, the government pledged to give 0.7pc of our gross national income to overseas aid. Successive governments have all made the same commitment but yet here we are 48 years later and still no delivery. Germany does it, Sweden does it. Norway and Denmark do it — 0.7pc.
That would be enough. It doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? It seems like such a small amount, yet the work that money can do is colossal. It can stop needless suffering and death.
It is also a matter of justice. Justice because Africa is heating up at twice the rate of any other continent. Heating up due to the carbon emissions that are slowly smothering the world.
Africa produces such a small percentage of these but it is getting the worst of the after-effects. It hasn’t rained for four seasons in Somalia. The crops failed first, then the animals died and now the children.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The future is not written in stone. We are bright, creative people. The money is there but right now the political will is not. The Minister for Finance may well decide that we have given enough, that we can’t afford any more.
Perhaps if we took the 0.7pc off the top at the start, Paschal, we could find a way of coping with the 99.3pc that was left.
Any system that tolerates the starvation of children is a crime against humanity
The people of Ireland can be proud of the work that Trócaire is doing in Somalia. Proud of the fact that after the civil war in 1993 when every other humanitarian organisation left Somalia, Trócaire stayed. Stayed and set up hospitals, stayed and set up schools. Stayed to such an extent that the people of western Somalia refer to Trócaire as “our mother”. Let the Government of Ireland now do something that we can also be proud of.
There will in all probability be more famines to come. And how are we to face these? Well, there are structural weaknesses in the global food supply system. Weaknesses that were highlighted following the 2007-08 food price crisis but these were left unaddressed and we will continue to sleepwalk into catastrophe after catastrophe until they are.
The system is broken. Any system that tolerates the starvation of children is a crime against humanity.
Did you know the commodity speculation of food is a thing? It means the buying-up and withholding of global food reserves in the hope that their value will increase over time. It means allowing people to die while the prospects of your profits increase. This happens. The stock exchange doesn’t have a conscience.
And let us also as an act of love and responsibility levy a tax of 0.7pc on all the multinational companies that are working in Ireland.
The headquarters of these great corporations may be here and the people working for them in this part of the world may be drawing down great wages but somewhere along the line, in most of them, lots of people are working long and unkind hours for f**k all.
The profits of these companies depend hugely on this cheap labour. Our consumerist way of life depends hugely on this cheap labour but consumerism now needs to grow up and take responsibility for the consequences of its actions.
The tax taken from this new levy should also go to overseas development assistance.
The people of Somalia are asking for help. I met a man sitting outside a makeshift latrine in the camp. We got talking. He’d just arrived with his wife and family after walking for days and days through the heat on an empty stomach
I came with my children and wife from another region because we had no food. I left behind a small farm. I had no livestock just crops. The profits from that farm had to be shared by all my relatives but it was not enough… Two or three years ago I lost a few children. One died of hunger and another died from illness and health problems.
I asked him did he ever think when he was growing up that his life would turn out like this?
“No,” he said. “I am facing the reality and am ready to be a father and provide for my family as long as I can get help. I will go wherever, whatever the distance to get help. I will move again if I have to. Only God knows what the future knows. Only he knows the reason we had to move away. Maybe it will rain again and life will be better. We are surviving on what others give us. That is how we are living.”
“In as much as you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it to me” is a quote from the New Testament. It’s included in a story of God addressing the world at the end of time. He says it to those who helped feed the hungry, clothe the naked and those who took in the stranger. And he said it to those who didn’t.
We have a decision to make.
The Irish Emergency Alliance, which includes Trócaire, has launched an appeal for the Horn of Africa. Donations to this urgent appeal can be made through IrishEmergencyAlliance.org or by calling 1800 939 979
The stand-up performer travelled to east Africa with Trócaire and saw for himself the devastation caused by four seasons of drought. In an article in the Sunday Independent he writes that it’s high time Ireland fulfilled a 0.7pc commitment to overseas aid