August 2, 2011
Soul Searching in the Face of Another Disaster, NOW in the Horn of Africa

Photo: Reuters/Feisal Omar, courtesy – AlertNet Today


Honestly, I am SICK of disasters.  I never expected to be a Disaster Response funder.  I have begun to feel beleaguered by the onslaught of catastrophes from all corners, by the images of bony mothers and babies with parched lips and blank stares, and confess I struggle to remain atuned to the far-away devastation and despair.  Do I not care enough?  Do I not love enough?  I remember the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who postulated that while love may readily move us to acts of compassion for individuals close to home, only an ardent sense of injustice can propel us to serve suffering strangers on a distant shore. 


Disasters are indeed profoundly unjust.  No one deserves them.  Disasters — even seemingly “natural” ones — are inherently unjust in that the poorest, the voiceless, the landless, have no insurance, no refuge, no recourse.  The drought in the Horn of Africa, intensified by rising global temperatures, is assaulting pastoralists who had no part in inducing it.  Now 10,000 new people weekly (1,500 per day) are crossing borders and flooding the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to escape the grip of drought-caused starvation, according to UNICEF.  See   In two regions of Somalia, the UN has declared a famine/humanitarian catastrophe, i.e. “when malnutrition rates climb higher than 30 percent, when more than two people out of 10,000 die each day, and when food is limited to less than 2,100 calories a day per person.”  See


I want to turn away from yet another mass suffering, a slow shuffling death march along a crackled landscape.  I want to say, “I’ve done my part somewhere else.”  I want to say, “In the long term it’s useless.”  But I simply can’t live with myself if I do not reach out, especially after UNICEF‘s gripping video has given famine a face:


Some things I can change; others I cannot:  a mantra much more eloquently phrased by Reinhold Niebuhr in his world-famous Serenity Prayer.  While oft misunderstood as a call to personal piety, the Serenity Prayer was far more a social declaration:


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


In Niebuhr’s theology (thinking about the divine order), there can be no serenity without courage, and no genuine compassion without action.  “The courage to change the things I can” in the world order becomes a moral imperative.  It may be too late for us to reverse the vagaries of nature provoked by climate change from human causes.  It is not too late — nor out of our power — to change who suffers undeservedly and disproportionately from unjust climate change disasters. 


It is up to us, the donors who undergird the rescue workers, to bring justice with compassion to our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa.   It is up to us to stop the senseless dying, and THEN to invest in long-term development, political stability, and disaster preparedness so that a “Perfect Storm” of deprivations do not lead to future famines.  Click here for the conditions that led to the Somalian famine


All of the organizations below (and more) are working arm-in-arm to provide water, food, rudimentary shelter, protection, medical care and hope to Kenyans, Somalians, Ethiopians, and Djiboutis victimized by the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in SIXTY YEARS. We — and no one else — are the ones they are waiting for. 


The Serenity Prayer and other quotes by Reinhold Niebuhr may be found at:


NGO Briefing Papers and Blogs on the crisis in the Horn of Africa.   


Mercy Corps

Oxfam America