Category Archives: advocacy

Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country

October 7th marks the 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. And as if war has not been enough, famine is descending upon Afghans.

Drought has struck 14 provinces in Afghanistan. Crops have been ruined and food supplies are almost gone. The charity Oxfam says, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

As famine conditions have strengthened, funding for UN World Food Programme (WFP) has diminished. The UN food agency relies entirely on voluntary donations.

WFP was forced to cut school meals for hundreds of thousands of Afghan children earlier this year. In a country deeply mired in poverty, school meals are a lifeline the children desperately need.

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition in the entire world. If this crisis, which is often ignored by policymakers, were given more attention many of Afghanistan’s ills could be remedied. For food is the foundation of peace, education and literacy, and maybe most of all hope. Hope and Afghanistan are two words not often associated.

There is talk of donor fatigue when it comes to Afghanistan and hunger relief in general, but this is nonsense. Food aid programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget.

Congress has proposed reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other hunger fighting  programs. This is such a mistake when peace in Afghanistan and other parts of the world depend on fighting hunger.

After World War II, when a CARE package center was opened in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio people flocked there to buy food for hungry people overseas. The first one to do so was a former World War I infantryman.

The first World War saw immense human suffering from both warfare and the resulting famine, and this donor had compassion and first-hand understanding of their plight. Americans from that generation did not suffer from donor fatigue, and continued feeding the hungry during the war and afterwards. Following the Second World War millions more were saved, and Europe was rebuilt from the important foundation of food.

Today, we cannot forget about Afghanistan nor let the people suffer. On this 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, let’s work to win the peace. It can start with fighting hunger.

Article first published as Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country at Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut

Baby Food for the Friendship Train in 1947.

A group of Army personnel went on a special mission in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall of 1947. This group of soldiers was helping to load boxes of baby food onto a truck. The following day a train was to roll into Cincinnati to pick up the food. Its destination: Europe.

World War II was over, but the peace was not yet won. Millions of people in the war-devastated countries were suffering from food shortages. Harsh winters and drought had followed the war. Reconstruction still had a way to go. Children were at severe risk of stunted growth if they could not get the right nutrients.

Americans took action. The Friendship Train, as it was called, went from coast to coast picking up food like the baby formula. One of the great achievements in American history was helping to rebuild Europe after World War II, and the Friendship Train was part of this.

The world scene now is no different, in the sense that food is needed to win the peace. If children are hungry, action has to be taken.

What better way to do so than a Friendship Train of plumpy’nut heading toward the areas of suffering and conflict around the globe? Plumpy’nut is the special peanut paste that rescues children from life-threatening malnutrition. The key is to get plumpy’nut to every child at risk from malnutrition so they can be saved.

Low funding and lack of political will are often what prevents this. While there are many great efforts ongoing among the public to raise funds and promote plumpy’nut, getting all the political leaders on board is essential. It has to be a team effort, as Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme’s director, often points out.

A Friendship Train of plumpy’nut today could rescue every malnourished child whether it’s in East Africa, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Guatemala, or any of the other suffering countries. It’s critical to reach the children because without nutrition in the first thousand days of life, they suffer lasting physical and mental damage.

It is unacceptable that low funding prevents foods like plumpy’nut from reaching malnourished children. Food aid is relatively inexpensive when it comes to foreign policy spending. Global hunger-fighting programs make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire U.S. federal budget.

So let’s get the Friendship Train rolling. All aboard with plumpy’nut. Save lives and help an entire generation of children to be healthy and strong enough to overcome the challenges their country may face.

Article first published as Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Books, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Europe, global hunger, History, malnutrition, plumpy'nut, School feeding, World Food Programme, World War II

Afghanistan: Drought Causes Severe Food Shortages for Millions

Over 7 million people suffer from hunger in Afghanistan, with many more bordering on the edge of food insecurity. Due to this year's drought and the reduced wheat harvest more Afghans will be now be joining the ranks of the hungry and food insecure. (WFP/Patrick Andrade )

Afghanistan is on the verge of a huge humanitarian disaster. Drought has ruined food supplies, and three million Afghans will face starvation if aid agencies do not have the resources in time to respond.

The charity Oxfam says , “The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance. Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.”

The lead agency in fighting hunger in Afghanistan, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is low on funding. WFP, which relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public, is about $200 million short for this year’s Afghanistan mission. WFP will require additional funds to feed more people suffering from hunger because of the drought.

The United Nations issued a report in July warning of the coming disaster. The UN stated, “The prediction of droughts in a protracted crisis country like Afghanistan is very worrying.”

For even before the recent drought took hold, Afghanistan was a country in a severe hunger crisis, with children suffering the most. The UN report summary highlights the startling numbers which show that “68% of the Afghan population is affected by some form of food insecurity with 31% food-insecure and 37% borderline food-insecure.” This means most Afghans struggle to get basic foods. Any shock like a spike in food prices, or disaster like drought, is devastating to Afghans who have little food.

For children the situation is gravest. In Afghanistan 40% of children under five years of age are underweight with 54% stunting. Children are struggling to get nutrition when they need it most in those early years. Children suffer lasting physical and mental damage from malnutrition in the first thousand days of life. With such poor health among its children, Afghanistan’s future is virtually doomed.

There is an ongoing war against hunger and want in Afghanistan. The drought is another fierce attack on an already vulnerable population. A major humanitarian crisis will take place this fall and winter in Afghanistan without interventions now. The Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Food prices have also been on the rise in Afghanistan, a huge blow to the drought-impacted areas. The UN says, “These additional stressors will affect these populations in addition to the 37% of the national population who are considered to be borderline food-insecure and who are currently planned to receive supplementary food support.”

It’s important to keep in mind that with WFP facing such low funding, school feeding and food for work projects have already been reduced. There are almost 500,000 children who lost their school meal ration because of this shortage. So these safety nets are currently not available to many Afghans at a time when they need them more than ever.

What Afghanistan needs now is a prompt intervention to save people from starvation in the coming months. What they also need are more long-term investments toward building the resiliency of communities facing drought.

Afghanistan cannot build a peace while its population suffers from hunger and want. No society can. The U.S. Congress right now is debating how much to fund its Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs. They need look no further than Afghanistan to understand how critical food assistance is to nations in crisis.

Article first published as Acting Now Can Save Afghans from Starvation on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Interview with Nava Ghalili on the Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran

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TV journalist Nava Ghalili

Desmond Tutu and José Ramos-Horta just wrote an oped on the Huffington Post titled Iran’s War Against Knowledge — An Open Letter to the International Academic Community. Their article discusses the denial of education to members of the Baha’i faith in Iran.

Last year I interviewed TV journalist Nava Ghalili about this very subject. I am reprinting the interview here from September 2010:

Millions of students will continue their pursuit of a college degree. Just imagine for a moment though if you were told you were not allowed to go to college, simply because of your faith.

That is exactly what happens to members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran. The Baha’i’s are a religious minority in Iran that advocates unity and peace.

The government of Iran bars members of the Baha’i Faith from going to college or even holding certain employment. That alone tells you the Baha’i’s are a persecuted minority in Iran.

But it gets much worse. Recently, seven leaders of the Baha’i Faith were sentenced to 20 years in prison (according to CNN, the sentences were just reduced to 10 years). The Iranian government accuses them of spying and spreading “corruption on earth.”

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague reacted to the initial sentencing, stating:

“This is a shocking example of the Iranian state’s continued discrimination against the Bahá’ís. It is completely unacceptable.The Iranian judiciary has repeatedly failed to allay international and domestic concerns that these seven men and women are guilty of anything other than practising their faith. It is clear that from arrest to sentencing, the Iranian authorities did not follow even their own due process, let alone the international standards to which Iran is committed.”

Nava Ghalili is a multimedia journalist who works for Fox 43 News in York, Pennsylvania.  She is also a member of the Baha’i Faith. She took the time to answer a few questions about the crisis of the Baha’i’s in Iran. Most importantly, she answers how anyone can take action to help the Baha’i’s.

You have worked as a journalist in the United States and also Australia. But back in Iran would you have had the same opportunities in journalism as a member of the Baha’i Faith?

You know, I think we should first feel so blessed to be living in a place where we have the freedom to express our feelings and thoughts, our beliefs. It’s such a great part of being human, being able to seek the truth for ourselves and share this with others.

As a journalist I feel very grateful to be sharing the stories of humanity on television, with no fear of what the truth I have found can do or whom it will affect.

In Iran this may not be the case, as a Baha’i we cannot express our beliefs freely.

They are unifying beliefs of the equality between men and women, the balance between science and religion, the oneness of humanity, the elimination of prejudice and the abolition of the extremes between poverty and wealth.

In Iran as a journalist there might be a fear that accompanies the occupation, a fear that I could be hurt by exploring the truths I find.

In Iran, as a journalist, regardless of what religion, there would be a fear to please a political hierarchy, and then couple that with being a Baha’i, a persecuted minority, it could be dangerous. I don’t believe the freedom to express, nor the opportunity, would be there.

It makes my heart very sad, because without expression, to me the light of truth becomes dim, for an entire society.

Why does the Iranian government fear a faith that promotes unity and peace?

I cannot know for sure. This is a question I believe many people who are not even Baha’i’s ask themselves. This, I believe, is a question many human rights groups ask themselves.

The founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah says, “Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.”

I think in many ways, fear, when married to ignorance can breed very dangerous circumstances.

The Baha’i’s only long for peace, do not believe in war, but are constantly persecuted and tortured by the government, without merit or logical reasoning.

Theologically speaking, many Muslims do not believe or accept a prophet or messenger that comes after Muhammad, and because Baha’u’llah revealed himself after the Prophet Muhammad’s dispensation, there is resistance. This is the only thing I can think of with regard to their fear, quite similar to the persecution other religions faced in previous civilizations where the world did not feel comfortable or ready to recognize a new prophet or adopt new advancing principles.

Though is this a valid humanistic basis by which one should kill, imprison, and torture another innocent human being?

To me this is a futile resistance that carries with it little desire to seek the truth outside the traditional dogma which man has allowed himself to be consumed with, dogmas that carry little understanding of the true essence of what I believe religion to be — love, light, and truth and the ultimate progression of humankind.

So, to answer your question as to why this regime fears the proclamation made by Baha’is, when they seek only peace and harmony, I could not fairly tell you, because I am myself bewildered by the idea.

Are there elements of Iranian society that support the Baha’i and want the persecution to stop?

Sure there are, a great many people that herald and fend for the rights of Baha’i’s, we see more and more people whom are not Baha’i’s striving to protect the sanctity of that which is the Baha’i Faith, and we see them in Iran and around the world.

Right now there are over 50 Baha’i’s, most specifically seven, being imprisoned on charges that are not justified, they bear no legal justification. They are being persecuted simply because they are Baha’i’s.

To me, the Iranian society and culture itself is so opposite to hatred, Iranians are so hospitable, loving, acceptable, it is a rich and beautiful culture, which for a great time, historically, was the envy of nations, of civilizations.

It is not the people we see that are opposed to the advanced principles of the Baha’i Faith.

How can someone help the Baha’i in Iran?

I am so glad you asked because I think many of us think that from so far away there is little we can do, but we can do much.

Please write to your elected officials. They are the ones that can make a movement happen.

More information about the situation of the Baha’is in Iran is also available, and information about the Baha’i Faith is available at the official website.

See also  The Bahai community and agriculture

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Filed under advocacy, Baha'i Faith, human rights, Iran

Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan?

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the mini-summit on the Horn of Africa in New York on September 24. (Copyright: WFP/Dena Gudaitis)

Aid agencies are racing to save people from starvation in Somalia. UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes in the famine-ravaged country. Severe drought in East Africa, coupled with the conflict in Somalia, has produced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in decades.

Is Afghanistan next to be attacked by famine? Drought has struck the north and western part of Afghanistan. An Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, says “Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”

The United Nations World Food Programme has been facing low funding for its Afghan relief operation this year, so there was already a hunger crisis firmly in place before this drought took hold.

WFP, at last report, was about $200 million short on funding for its 2011 operation. Earlier this year WFP had to cut school meals for about 500,000 Afghan children because of the low funding. For children in developing countries school meals are often the only meal they receive the entire day. Afghanistan is a country that needs a nationwide school meals program, not a reduction in child feeding. WFP programs to help small farmers are also impacted by low funding.

It is expected that almost 3 million people will need food aid this fall in Afghanistan, on top of a population of 7 million already suffering from hunger. In a country seeking to build peace, will it now be confronted with famine? Afghanistan needs an emergency response now as well as plans to prevent future tragedies.

This past week in New York Josette Sheeran, the UN World Food Programme’s director, urged actions to prevent famine from striking again. Where there are investments in food security, as well as open access, a powerful line of defense can be built against famine. The drought In East Africa is proof of this.

Sheeran says, “The fact is while droughts may not be preventable, famines are. In areas where the humanitarian community has access, millions of hungry are being reached with life-saving action and lasting hunger solutions.”

These actions range “from supporting small holder farmers to deploying anti-hunger safety net programmes like school feeding.” Sheeran adds, “In my own agency, through a community adaptation program called MERET, the Ethiopian government, with support by WFP has been has build a sustainable land management and rain catchment program that has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought.”

These programs require enough funding from the international community. However, WFP has faced funding shortages for its operations all year, including in Somalia.

The international community needs to act fast in Somalia and Afghanistan. In addition to meeting emergency needs, long-term solutions have to be put in place. We cannot afford another humanitarian disaster.

Article first published as Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Africa, Congress, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Ethiopia, famine, global hunger, Josette Sheeran, malnutrition, Middle East, Oxfam, plumpy'nut, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Without Nutrition and Education Yemen Cannot Thrive

UNICEF Nutrition Officer Dr. Rajia Sharhan holds a young child at a therapeutic feeding centre in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital. (UNICEF Yemen/2011/Halldorsson)

UNICEF reports there are “very high” malnutrition rates among children under 5 years of age in the Hajjah governorate of Yemen. These startling findings include the Haradh, Bakeel Al Meer and Mustaba districts. The malnutrition rates are “way above the emergency thresholds.” Some of the cases are the most severe type of malnutrition.

The UNICEF report, released this week, says a team of aid workers “observed a nonfunctional public health system, high diarrhea prevalence, sub-optimal nutrition interventions especially for the severely malnourished.”

Without the proper nutrients small children are threatened with lasting physical and mental damage. Many children in Yemen never recover after being attacked by malnutrition. Intervention is needed swiftly.

UNICEF says that in the aforementioned districts 48.3% of the children are underweight, similar to the national average, a telling statistic about Yemen. The UN World Food Programme says, “the proportion of underweight children is the third highest in the world after India and Bangladesh.”

UNICEF has continued to run its operations in Yemen even during the most recent escalation of violence in the capital of Sanaa. However, the agency faces a funding shortage and does not have the resources to reach all cases of malnutrition. UNICEF and the World Food Programme depend on voluntary funding from governments and the public.

While there is increasing international focus on Yemen with its political struggles and Al Qaeda presence, this has not translated into support for child feeding and rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the presence of the U.S. military has escalated via drone planes as part of the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Every day is a struggle for children to survive in Yemen. The crisis facing Yemen’s children extends to education where there is precious little of it. UNICEF is trying to help reverse this backward trend.

Geert Cappelaere, the director of UNICEF Yemen says, “Without an educated population, no country thrives. In a country where only 70% of boys and 60% of girls receive basic education no effort should be spared in making sure every single child is sent to school this year.” UNICEF, USAID, CHF International and Save the Children are partnering with Yemen’s Ministry of Education on a Back to School Campaign.

The idea is to increase the enrollment of Yemeni children in school and reduce the dropout rate. Both of these tasks are huge challenges in this impoverished country facing political upheaval. The campaign features stressing the importance of education, the distribution of school supplies as well as teacher training.

Roberta Contine of CHF International says, “I would like to stress the importance of implementing such capacity building interventions in regions with emergencies where teachers are set to provide psychosocial support for children aside from traditional education.”

Yemen’s Minister of Education Dr. Abdulsalam Al-Jawfi says, “Education is a collective responsibility for everyone…. We also appeal to political parties, community organizations, and the media and mosque preachers to enthusiastically engage during the campaign and ensure that access to education is guaranteed to all children without any exception.”

One tool in increasing school attendance though is missing. This would be the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) school feeding initiative to provide take-home rations. Low funding for WFP forced suspension of the program in 2010. Since 2008, high food prices and low funding from the international community have devastated the WFP Food for Education in Yemen. Should this program be restarted and expanded nationwide, it would have a positive impact on increasing school attendance and lowering malnutrition rates.

Dr. Rajia Sharhan of UNICEF points out that school feeding would have the effect of improving the health of future mothers. Yemen needs to be developing a national school lunch program.

But Yemen faces so many hurdles before they can start attacking these problems. The political turmoil and violence has to come to an end. The international community has to support the work of UNICEF, WFP and other aid agencies.

Article first published as Without Nutrition and Education Yemen Cannot Thrive on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, global hunger, malnutrition, Middle East, plumpy'nut, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Yemen

Interview: Kate O’Malley of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia

The Irish National Famine Memorial Coffin Ship in County Mayo. Erected "To honor the memory of all who died, suffered and emigrated due to the Great Famine of 1845-1850, and the victims of all famines." (photo courtesy Irish Americans in Support of Somalia)

The drought in East Africa is so massive it threatens over 13 million people with starvation. That is almost as many people as the population of Maryland and Virginia combined.

The hardest hit area is conflict-torn Somalia where UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes. Aid agencies are rushing to save lives. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes in the desperate search for food and water.

But will you see this story in the news? Not often, as reported by the Pew research center. Kate O’Malley of Rhode Island noticed this lack of media attention and took action to do something about it. She started a group called Irish Americans in Support of Somalia. She recently took time to talk about this group and how it connects the past with the present crisis in East Africa.

What gave you the idea to form Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?

I felt frustrated about the lack of media coverage about what was happening in Somalia. My husband is from Ireland and I am Irish American and we have two daughters who have grown up sharing time between both places. We were raised with stories of the bitter devastation of the Great Irish Famine of 150 years ago, when millions perished from starvation or were lost to the coffin ships as they fled in desperation. We felt honoring our history by helping famine victims today was a compelling connection that would resonate with others, so we started this campaign to spread awareness and raise funds to aid in the biggest humanitarian disaster of this century. What’s happening in the Horn of Africa in 2011 is a complex mess and far away, but we hope people, Irish or not, will consider this: In 1831 tens of thousands Native Americans were forcibly relocated with more than half dying on the march now known as the Trail of Tears. Just sixteen years later, despite their suffering and because they understood what starvation meant, members of the Choctaw Nation sent $710 to the starving in Ireland, a huge amount at the time. To this day the Irish are grateful. This history should inspire people to realize that if they could do that then, surely we can each do something today for the starving in Somalia and East Africa.

Do you have fundraising events planned?

Since the start of this campaign a few weeks ago, our focus has been to grow this all-volunteer grassroots campaign through online efforts to spread the word. Just like on St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone can be “Irish”, we’re inviting everyone to “like” our Facebook page or to email us at irishamericansforsomalia@gmail.com .

We’re providing information on how to donate, highlighting compelling historical connections and offering updates about what is happening in East Africa. We’re hoping people will share this information with their own networks, family and friends. This week we met with the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee who spearheaded the building of a beautiful memorial to the victims of the Great Irish Famine. As a living memorial, fighting hunger today has always been a part of their mission. They plan to present a donation at an October 9th ceremony at the Memorial in Providence and to encourage their many member Irish American organizations to get behind this effort. Folks should stay tuned for information on upcoming events.

Where will the funds raised by Irish Americans in Support of Somalia be distributed?

We are supporting Edesia, a non-profit, operating its Providence, RI factory around the clock to produce enough Plumpy’nut, to feed 50,000 children a day in the Horn of Africa. Plumpy’nut is designed to treat severe malnutrition in young children who can make a full recovery in just 4 – 8 weeks. Just $50 provides a full life saving treatment. Edesia supplies its products at cost to such organizations as USAID, UNICEF, World Food Programme and Save the Children. Donations help them lower the cost even further so their partners can buy and distribute larger quantities. I visited the plant to see production, learn how it’s being distributed and to meet the people behind Edesia. They’re creating local jobs, they’re saving lives globally, and they need our help now. We’re asking people to donate to them directly at the Edesia donation page and to please write Irish Americans in Support of Somalia in the purpose line of the donation page or on the memo line of their check. This way we can track total donations and determine how effective we’re being.

How can someone get involved with Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?

Helping to spread the word, through Facebook, email, or conversations with family and friends is key to launching this effort and getting people to start paying attention to what’s happening in the Horn of Africa. Our effort is not limited to just Irish Americans, and we are hoping to work with as many individuals and organizations as possible to get the message out. We hope such groups will consider hosting events for this cause, making appeals to their members, or distributing information at their regularly scheduled activities. We have print and electronic materials we can offer. We also ask that people help us with networking and with media contacts, particularly in the Irish American press. If they can make a donation in the name of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia at Edesia Donation Page , all the better.

Article first published as Interview: Kate O’Malley of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Edesia, famine, global hunger, History, Ireland, Kenya, malnutrition, plumpy'nut, social media, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, UNICEF, World Food Programme