Category Archives: Kenya

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

Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa

President Reagan called the U.S. Food for Peace program an “instrument of American compassion.” This government program has a tradition of feeding the world’s hungry. It saves lives. It represents the very best of America.

And we see it in action again with the recent Food for Peace donation of $64 million to the charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The food will be used as part of a relief mission to drought-stricken Ethiopia.


Ronald Reagan said “people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom.”  Today, Food for Peace is threatened with severe budget cuts by Congress. (photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)

Ethiopia is suffering food shortages from failed crops. For the food that is available, prices are high for many Ethiopian families.

Catholic Relief Services is feeding about a million people there as part of the Joint Emergency Operations Plan. The Food for Peace donation goes to this joint mission.

The charities CARE, Save the Children US, Save the Children UK, World Vision, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia, and the Relief Society of Tigray will assist in the distribution of the food.

Around a million people are being given a lifeline, thanks to Food for Peace, CRS and the other charities working together. In addition, CRS and other aid agencies continue their work to build up the resilience of farmers to drought. This effort has helped make Ethiopia less vulnerable to the drought, compared to parts of Somalia where aid agencies have had far less access in recent years.


Women collect water in a region of Ethiopia where CRS has been working on drought mitigation projects since 2003. Photo by KL Dammann/CRS

Food for Peace, which started during the Eisenhower administration, has come under pressure recently from Congress. Members of the House of Representatives have proposed cutting most, if not all, of the funding for Food for Peace. Yet hunger-fighting programs are a very tiny part of the overall budget and cutting them makes no dent in the federal deficit.

CRS is working with its partners throughout East Africa to bring relief from the massive drought that struck the region. This includes aid to Somali refugees in Kenya, as well as support to host communities there which are also suffering from the widespread drought. In Somalia, within the areas of Mogadishu and Baidoa, CRS is helping 28,000 displaced persons with health and nutrition services.

In addition CRS is providing food, water, and livelihood support to 35,000 drought-affected Somalis in the south-central part of the country. Their work involves not only emergency aid, but also projects for building up resistance to future droughts.

David Orth-Moore of CRS says, “While working to alleviate the immediate human suffering, CRS recognizes the importance of long-term drought mitigation programs, and we’ve seen that some communities are faring better now during this current drought because of those projects.”


You can help Catholic Relief Services by donating to their East Africa Emergency Fund

Article first published as Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Africa, Catholic Relief Services, drought, Dwight Eisenhower, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Save the Children, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Vision

Obama, Congress Should Copy JFK’s First Days in Office and Protect the Hungry

President Kennedy supported food aid programs at home and abroad

Hunger is on the offensive, even in the United States. The Department of Agriculture reports that 49 million Americans struggle to get food. Worldwide, nearly one billion people suffer from hunger, and child malnutrition is rampant in East Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen and many other areas.

President Obama and the Congress, as they grapple with the federal budget, also need to protect the hungry. They can take a page from President John F. Kennedy’s playbook for his first days in office, back in 1961.

Kennedy’s first act as president was to order food aid to hungry people in the U.S., particularly in West Virginia. Unemployment was high, and it was critical that food support be given during a time of great strain on the people there. Kennedy’s plan involved distribution of food stamps to the needy. And it worked.

Kennedy reported on this aid in 1962, stating, “Low income families are receiving better diets…Retail food store sales in these areas increased 8 percent in dollar volume. There have been savings in distribution costs and benefits to the economy of the food stamp communities.”

Also the Kennedy administration worked on improvements to the national school feeding program. This is a vital safety net to ensure that children in impoverished families do not suffer from lack of nutrition.

Today, protection is needed for families all across America, where unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Demand for food banks is growing. Many Americans face a struggle to afford food. But support from the federal government is dwindling, with programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) facing reduced funding levels. Emergency food banks across the country count on TEFAP for supplies.

Vicki Escarra of Feeding America says, “As Congress and the administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is more critical than ever to protect funding for nutrition programs that provide the first line of defense against hunger in America.”

President Obama and the Congress should expand food aid for hungry Americans. Programs like TEFAP, food stamps, the national school lunch program, including summer feeding, need to be emphasized. Like JFK on his first days, they need to do what is right for the American people.

But also like JFK, Obama and Congress have to think globally and consider our national security interests abroad. Fighting hunger overseas is an essential part of our foreign policy. JFK realized this. His predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower knew this when he signed Public Law 480, which became known as Food for Peace. This program is the primary tool for the U.S. in fighting hunger abroad.

President Kennedy, in his second executive order, created a White House office for Food for Peace. This bolstered the existing program and made fighting hunger a top priority, where it also needs to be now.

Today, the U.S. should expand its food for peace program, not reduce funding as proposed in budgets put forward by Congress earlier this year. Hunger-fighting initiatives are relatively inexpensive and do not contribute to our debt problems. Moreover, they are essential in terms of promoting stability and economic development abroad.

The U.S. simply cannot afford to retreat from fighting the menace of hunger. There is tremendous suffering ongoing in East Africa in the famine and drought zone. In Afghanistan, where we are trying to win the peace, a hunger crisis is growing, and food aid programs face huge budget shortfalls. Likewise, in Yemen hunger is on the rise while the World Food Programme and UNICEF remain low on funds to combat the scourge.

One area where the U.S. really needs to step up is in child feeding. When Kennedy became president, he named George McGovern the Food for Peace Director. McGovern led a vigorous campaign against hunger, including school meals for millions of children in Brazil, South Korea, India, Poland and other countries. Many of these nations developed their own national school feeding program from this effort.

Today, we need that same kind of resolve as funding for school lunch programs in developing countries remains low. In Afghanistan, for instance, reduced funding for the World Food Programme forced about 500,000 children to lose their school meal ration. That is hardly an epitome of a reconstruction going well.

In Haiti, support for school feeding is critical to turning the corner on rebuilding the country from the earthquake. We do not want to cut funding now. Food for Peace as well as the McGovern-Dole school lunch program need increased funding.

Food aid programs have historically received bipartisan support. They should today as well. For the future of the United States and that of other countries rests on the most basic foundation–food and nutrition. Food for Peace must remain a top priority for the current government as it was the day President Kennedy took office fifty years ago.

Article first published as Obama, Congress Should Copy JFK’s First Days in Office and Protect the Hungry on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, drought, Dwight Eisenhower, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Middle East, plumpy'nut, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Yemen

Norwegian Refugee Council providing aid in East Africa

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is taking action against the massive hunger crisis facing East Africa. Famine has been declared in parts of Somalia and severe drought has struck Kenya, Ethiopia and other areas of the region. Thousands of people have already perished and millions more are at risk of starvation.

In my article Thoughts on the Norway and the Famine in Somalia I highlighted the NRC airlift of emergency food rations into Mogadishu, Somalia. These rations were ready-to-eat biscuits for adults and children, a way to provide quick nutrients without special preparation or storage unavailable in disaster zones.

Kaja Haldorsen of NRC says another shipment of 28 tons of food rations arrived in Mogadishu in late August. In addition Norwegian citizens have donated 6.2 million (Norwegian dollars) to NRC. The government has donated 50 million to NRC relief efforts in East Africa.

NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson said earlier this summer, “What we have seen so far, is only the beginning of a large scale humanitarian catastrophe that will continue to unfold for at least six months ahead, given that the next harvest in January will be successful. Pending donor support, NRC is committed to do anything within its capacity to assist and prevent as many people as possible from starvation, death and displacement.”

You can donate to NRC’s East Africa relief mission at their web site.

Originally published at Examiner.com

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, Kenya, malnutrition, Norway

College Class Takes on Hunger and Poverty at Home and Abroad

The College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio (College of Mount St. Joseph photo)

This week I spoke to the College of Mount St. Joseph’s (MSJ) UN Millennium Development Goals class. The MSJ class just returned from a trip to the United Nations in New York where they met with UN delegates. The students aim to take action on ending hunger and poverty, achieving universal education for children, and working on other development goals.

The class runs for the fall semester. Professor Elizabeth Barkley says, “Through their Service Learning with local agencies, students begin to make an impact in their world and realize that, although problems can seem overwhelming and unsolvable, young people can still make a difference.”

At the class I discussed ways you can take action to support the Millennium Development goals. One of the easiest ways is playing a game called Free Rice . In fact, MSJ has its own team . Playing Free Rice, you answer vocabulary questions and other subjects. For each correct answer 10 grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Programme to fight hunger. The rice is paid for by advertisers on the site.

Currently, Free Rice is supporting school feeding in Cambodia. Earlier this year Free Rice proceeds supported school feeding in Haiti.

What better way to support the Millennium Development goals than through school feeding? The meal at school fights child hunger and malnutrition and improves class attendance and performance, giving children an opportunity to escape the poverty trap through an education. In many developing countries, school meals are the only meal children receive the entire day. Free Rice is a quick and easy way to take action and help children get these vital school meals.

Another idea we discussed in the class was advocacy, making your voice heard to your elected officials. Current budget proposals in the Congress threaten achievement of the Millennium Development goals. For instance, Congress is proposing reducing both domestic and international food aid.

One of the programs being threatened is The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which supports food banks across the U.S. With demand for food banks fast rising, TEFAP takes on even more urgency. However, the program is below last year’s funding levels and Congress is planning more cuts to it in 2012. Unless citizens take action, this vital source of supply for food banks is at risk.

One of the handouts I gave at class was a guide for how to use Twitter and Facebook to take action to contact your representatives on these key issues.

Another area where Congress is proposing cuts is to the U.S. Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole programs. These are two major global hunger-fighting initiatives sponsored by the United States. If funding is reduced, it is a major blow in the struggle to fight hunger and poverty around the world. Food for Peace was started back in the Eisenhower administration with the idea of sending U.S. surplus food abroad to help countries fight hunger and build stability.

The McGovern-Dole program supports international school feeding. For just several billion a year, we could provide food for children at school around the world. Contrast that to the 52 billion (at least) price tag for supporting nuclear weapons programs, with the Cold War long in the rear view mirror–something to think about if want to talk social justice and an intelligent search for peace in today’s world.

One of the highlights of the class was our discussion of Plumpy’nut, a vital life-saving nutrient. Ironically, at that very moment on NBC Nightly News, a segment featuring the plumpy’nut producer Edesia was being aired. Edesia and plumpy’nut have been featured In many of my articles over the past year, such as the Silent Guest , and also in the Providence Journal .

I talked about how critical Plumpy’nut is for rescuing children from dangerous malnutrition, and its easy storage and distribution. Plumpy’nut is a key part of the famine relief effort ongoing in East Africa, but is also critical to many other areas.

The problem with plumpy though is that low funding prevents aid agencies like the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF from having enough supply on hand. Therefore, many children needlessly suffer the effects of malnutrition. One of the students pointed out the need for establishing plumpy facilities in many countries. This creates jobs for the people in the country and provides a plumpy supply for faster and cheaper distribution.

I tried to talk the class into having a plumpy’nut mascot appear on campus for an event. Am waiting for word on this. I also learned that there was concern about the MSJ football team’s season. However, the team has compiled an outstanding record over the past decade with a number of conference titles. So history would suggest the team will do well.

And the class will do well also in working toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Professor Jim Bodle says a main purpose of the class is for students “to become aware of how our actions have an impact on the rest of the world.”

And that sums it up in a nutshell. Actions you take today can make a difference. Whether it’s service to a charity in your community, playing Free Rice, writing a representative, or even promoting Plumpy’nut using a mascot, all are ways you can take action to end hunger and poverty.

Article first published as College Class Takes on Hunger and Poverty at Home and Abroad on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, Books, Catholic Relief Services, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Edesia, global hunger, Ivory Coast, Kenya, malnutrition, Mercy Corps, Middle East, plumpy'nut, West Africa

Obama, Congress, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut

Refugees about 200 meters from the Somali Border Refugees at the pre-registration center, about 200 m from the Somali Border, wait to enter into the transit center in Ethiopia Credit: WFP/Judith Schuler

President Obama and Congress need to work together in an area where bipartisan cooperation has been present before : fighting hunger.

With high unemployment at home, the demand for food banks is increasing. Child hunger rates in the U.S. are alarming. A recent Feeding America report says, “There are 314 counties in the U.S. where approximately one-third of children are struggling with food insecurity.” Is your county one of them?

Children are struggling to access food. Nothing threatens America’s future more than hungry and malnourished children.

Catherine D’Amato, president of the Greater Boston Food Bank, states, “These new statistics are staggering. Children suffer disproportionately from hunger. Not only are they more likely to experience hunger than adults, the impact on their young and growing bodies can leave lasting damage in the form of developmental delays that affect their health and school performance.”

While hunger is growing in the U.S., support from the federal government is down. Food banks around the country face the prospect of empty shelves, unless action is taken.

The Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) needs to be fully funded for the rest of 2011, and also be assured of congressional support for next year. TEFAP provides supplies for emergency food banks around the country. Even with the increased demand for food aid, TEFAP is currently about 37 percent below last year’s funding level of 655 million. Food banks are facing supply shortages because of this. In addition, Congress has proposed reducing next year’s TEFAP funding level.

Vicki Escarra, the president of Feeding America, says “With the holiday season approaching and with food banks still facing the very real possibility that federal funding for food programs could be cut in FY2012, more help is still needed.”

On the global scene, hunger is so powerful a force that, if unchecked, will devastate America’s foreign policy. There is a famine taking place in East Africa, and tens of thousands of children have perished.

There are many other hunger crisis points where lack of food threatens lives, stability and development. Take the country where peace has remained elusive for years: Afghanistan. Fighting hunger is an essential part of the solution to the problem of peace in Afghanistan. Yet they too are experiencing drought. We can hear the warnings of a hunger storm there.

Silke Buhr of the UN World Food Programme says, “WFP is concerned that drought conditions in the country have had a significant impact on crop production and will lead to more people needing food assistance. These new needs come at a time when we are already facing major resource shortfalls and have already had to make some really tough decisions to priorities how we use our resources.”

WFP relies on voluntary funding for its hunger relief missions. Yet funding has been so low it has been forced to reduce the number of children who will receive school meals. What could be more inexpensive and basic to a country’s reconstruction than a school lunch? Yet right now almost 500,000 children are not able to get them. In developing countries, meals at school are often the only one children receive all day.

In Yemen, hunger and malnutrition threaten our effort to help bring stability to the Middle Eastern country. Special foods like plumpy’nut are needed by UNICEF to treat cases of child malnutrition in Yemen. This special peanut paste is produced by Providence-based Edesia and other factories around the globe. However, low funding prevents Yemen from obtaining the supply of plumpy’nut they need.

Plumpy’nut requires no special storage or preparation which is critical for a country in turmoil like Yemen. The constant power outages there can make food unsafe for children which leads to sickness and more malnutrition. Foods like plumpy’nut are safe for the children.

In Haiti we have to follow through and support the national school lunch program and agricultural reconstruction projects.

The focus also has to go beyond reacting to hunger crisis points to establishing conditions where these emergencies are less likely to occur. At least, their impact can be minimized. This means a year-round commitment to fighting and preventing hunger. The U.S. needs to be the leader.

If Congress goes through with proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole school lunch program, we place millions of lives in peril. Our own national security will be at risk too.

As Ronald Reagan once said, “people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom.” Hunger and suffering overseas create another generation of children stunted in growth and mind. American’s simply cannot afford to let that happen.

Article first published as Obama, Congress, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Edesia, global hunger, Ivory Coast, Josette Sheeran, Kenya, malnutrition, Middle East, plumpy'nut, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, West Africa, World Food Programme

Thoughts On Norway and the Famine in Somalia

How will history remember the summer of 2011? You could make a long list of events. Certainly at the top are the famine in East Africa and the mass shootings that took place in Norway.

These two tragedies intertwined when representatives from Norway attended an East Africa donor conference in July, right after the shootings.

Arvinn E. Gadgil of Norway’s foreign ministry said, “It was an astonishing moment. In a meeting about the potential death of 12 million people, Norway got a standing ovation for a full minute. I asked our UN ambassador who said that he had not seen anything like it during his 30 years in the UN system. People all around the world were clearly shocked by the events in Oslo.”

Norway could have turned inwards in the wake of their own tragedy. They could have put aside areas of international concern. They could have stopped reaching out, for at least the time being. That did not happen.

Instead, Norway went to work to save lives in East Africa. At the end of July, two planes from Norway touched down in Somalia to distribute emergency rations for 50,000 hungry Somalis. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) distributed the food in the Mogadishu area.

On Saturday July 31, two AN-12 planes from Norway landed in Mogadishu loaded with almost 28 tons emergency rations. Credits: Gunhild Forselv/NRC

Marianne Alfsen of NRC wrote, “People are dying as we speak. The quicker we act, the more lives can be saved. More shipments by plane are being planned, while emergency food is also on its way by sea.”

The Norwegian government continued its donations to UN agencies to help them fight hunger. Dena Gudaitis of the UN World Food Programme says, “WFP is incredibly grateful to Norway for providing a generous and flexible contribution to WFP on a yearly basis for our overall relief operations. This year, WFP has allocated US$ 5 million from Norway funding to operations in Kenya and Ethiopia.”

This outpouring of generosity is a way of life for Norway. It can be seen in the actions of the government and charitable agencies. It’s also seen in the acts of individuals.

When Hanna Helmersen penned her memoir War and Innocence, she characterized the generosity of her home country during the Nazi German occupation. Children reached out to the hungry. Helmresen and her classmates gave some of their food, which was in short supply, to Russian prisoners being held by the German army in a camp near their home.

After the war, the Norwegian government showed this same spirit working with Herbert Hoover, America’s food ambassador. Hoover sought to organize relief to defeat the post-war famine. Norway was very cooperative in this effort, doing what it could even though the country had great needs of its own.

The charity American Relief for Norway typified the same spirit too. This agency, which was led by Norwegian Americans, did not forget the suffering in other countries. American relief for Norway helped to buy CARE packages for their hungry neighbors. That same generosity carries on today.

Gadgil said in July, “The question of whether I should travel to Rome when so many people have lost so much in the terrorist actions in Norway was a difficult one. But, as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said, we will respond to these atrocities with more humanity. Norway’s fight against poverty, for development and humanitarian compassion are what define us as a nation.”

Article first published as Thoughts On Norway and the Famine in Somalia on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Norway, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger