This week newspaper headlines are filled with tragic stories of people dying of hunger in Somalia. Caused by droughts but exacerbated by politics, in southern Somalia the Al-ShaBab insurgent Islamist group is blocking the escape of starving people to feeding camps. The Al-ShaBab leadership feels it is better to starve than accept food aid from the West, distrusting aid workers as spies. Those who have escaped to refugee camps in Kenya face overcrowding conditions and even violence. More than 800,000 Somalis are now living outside Somalia, while nearly 1.5 million are internally displaced. Having stopped Western humanitarian aid to the region, they are widely blamed for the scope of the current devastation where tens of thousands have died and 500,000 children are on the brink of starvation.
Last month, Nicholas Kristoff wrote about the role of breastfeeding as a part of the cure for global poverty in his post, The Breast Milk Cure, in the New York Times. He reported that a 2008 study in Lancet said 1.4 million child deaths could be averted each year if babies were breast-fed properly. That’s one child dying unnecessarily every 22 seconds.
This is World Breastfeeding Week. Begun in 1991, WBW is now celebrating 10 years August 1 – 7. When mothers breastfeed their children they promote good health by passing on antibodies, stave off malnutrition and diarrhea in poor countries and create social and psychological bonds beneficial to survival. However, it is not just the mother’s who need to be educated about breastfeeding. The website states it best:
When we look at breastfeeding support, we tend to see it in two-dimensions: time (from pre-pregnancy to weaning) and place (the home, community, health care system, etc). But neither has much impact without a THIRD dimension – communication! Communication is an essential part of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. We live in a world where individuals and global communities connect across small and great distances at an instant’s notice. New lines of communication are being created every day, and we have the ability to use these information channels to broaden our horizons and spread breastfeeding information beyond our immediate time and place to activate important dialogue. This third dimension includes cross-generation, cross-sector, cross-gender, and cross-culture communication and encourages the sharing of knowledge and experience, thus enabling wider outreach.
Certainly, in an ideal scenario in the case of Somalia, it is imperative first that mothers be cared for, then their babies can have increased odds of survival.