Somalia: The face of misery

U.S. cutting foreign aid not right

When you’re a photo editor at a major news service, viewing disturbing photos of suffering and death from around the world is part of the job. But for Gilraj Singh, a Reuters photo editor, a particular series of images from Somalia left him ashamed, angry and in tears.

Singh shared his experience several years ago on a Reuters News Service blog he titled, “In the face of famine.” He described his work on the Global Pictures Desk as regularly being exposed to images of death. But a series of eight photos taken at a clinic in Somalia led him to wonder how these conditions can exist in today’s world.

To be sure, the situation in Somalia has only worsened since Singh’s blog post. After warlords overthrew President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, it tossed the country into one of Africa’s longest civil wars. Now, the emergence of the Islamic State threatens more violence on top of drought and famine.

The series of photos Singh edited was not gruesome. Instead, they begin with a Somali mother looking on as her malnourished child is being examined by a doctor. She almost appears to be smiling. But the next image jars this impression.

Singh described the other photos. “Then the same woman (is) weeping as her child lies dead on the table covered with a cloth. And then finally she stares, seemingly straight at the viewer, her sadness resonating through the pixels of the image on the screen.”

Singh’s blog includes the photos he describes. To see the mother looking back at the viewer is discomforting and the photo editor asks how this situation could exist today.

“Here we are, in the 21st century, where on one hand we have societies where children are dying from hunger and on the other, societies battling rising childhood obesity,” observed Singh. “What kind of world are we living in where the affluent are driven to excess, while the impoverished just wither away?”

According to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a 2011 famine in the East Africa nation of Somalia killed more than 250,000 people, most of them women and children. Now the country faces a severe drought. “This country could soon face its third famine in a quarter of a century,” said CRS program officer Mohamed Dahir. Over half of Somalia’s population, more than 6 million people, are in need of aid.

Back at his photo desk, Singh wondered if other people are upset by the Somali photos.

“When I saw these pictures I sat in my seat, for the first time in my career, feeling completely impotent,” he wrote. “That’s when I walked away from the desk, away from my colleagues, and for the first time, in the office. … I cried.”

Our reaction should be no different from Singh’s, especially if we call ourselves followers of Christ. Unfortunately, as a nation, our response has been indifference. For the second year in a row, President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request is proposing to reduce U.S. foreign aid spending by more than one-third. It completely eliminates food assistance.

CRS is urging Congress to protect funding for international assistance in 2018 and 2019.

“This funding is urgently needed to feed the hungry, provide shelter for those in need, support refugees, combat the impact of climate shocks and to coordinate responses to global health outbreaks,” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS vice president for government relations and advocacy.

For our part, we can keep our Somali brothers and sisters in prayer during these weeks of Lent. We can also contribute to CRS Rice Bowl, which aids countries like Somalia. Pray also that nations blessed with wealth do not forget those in need, as Jesus would want us to do.