In 2011, the world agonized over pictures of starving mothers and their children in the African country of Somalia. The reason? Prolonged drought and eventual famine. The videos and photos from international news agencies put faces, gaunt and grim, with haunting, hungry eyes, to the statistics. While humanitarian efforts poured into the stricken area, thousands continued to die—many of them children.
Recent reports say the drought cycle has broken in Somalia, as predicted by meteorologists and others. “But conditions are still precarious, United Nations officials warned, with many Somalis dying of hunger and more than two million still needing emergency rations to survive.”
A July 20, 2012 UN report remained guarded: “In spite of the progress made one year after the declaration of famine in parts of southern Somalia, some 3.8 million people there are still in need of assistance, the United Nations said today, appealing to countries to provide funding for humanitarian aid.
‘Last year, we were able to halt the downward spiral into starvation for hundreds of thousands of people. Famine conditions have not been present since January,’ said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, in a news release.
‘However, the humanitarian situation in Somalia remains critical with 2.51 million people in urgent need of aid and a further 1.29 million at risk of sliding back into crisis,’ he added.”
Now the same deadly specter hovers over other African countries like Chad, Niger, and Burkina Faso, reportedly the poorest region on the continent.
Recognizing the cycle
It’s not difficult to trace events leading to famine: first, no rain for several growing seasons; crops diminish and eventually fail; stockpiles dwindle; money becomes non-existent; and finally there is no food.[i] The grim result: death by starvation and disease, unless, that is, aid comes from some outside source, or, if one relocates to find sustenance elsewhere.
Drought and famine were all too familiar to people of the Old Testament. Sarai, for instance, faced such conditions during her lifetime. She and Abram had the means to relocate to Egypt until the rains returned (Genesis 12:10). Later Rebekah traveled with Isaac to Gerar for the same reason (Genesis 26:1-7). Probably the best-known survivor is Naomi, who, with her husband and two sons, journeyed to Moab, and plenty (Ruth 1:1-2).
However, there was one mother—a widow, undoubtedly poor—who found herself caught in the deadly cycle, apparently with no option to leave. Resigned to a morbid outcome, she prepared to feed her child one last meager meal and wait for the end of their miseries. With a miraculous turn of events, her life changed forever. We’ll revisit her story in the next post.
[i] For a fascinating Bible account of this cycle playing out during the life of Joseph, please read Genesis 41-47.
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