Monday, June 23, 2008

The Writing Life -

re: Alex de Waal: "...When I arrived in Darfur, I expected to find mass starvation apart from the few places aid had reached. But that wasn't the reality. The Darfurians were hardier and more resourceful than 'disaster tourists' (mostly well-meaning volunteers) could imagine. The nutritional arithmetic -- the failed harvests, the late relief efforts -- said they should all be dead. They weren't. /I set myself the task of explaining why. I spoke to a young mother, Amina, in a village called Furawiya at the edge of the desert, who told me how she had survived. She had harvested just a few grains of millet from her withered crop and buried them to prevent her hungry children from eating them. Then she set off on an arduous trek, gathering wild grasses and berries, selling a sheep to buy bread, working as a day laborer for small amounts of money. Upon her return, she dug up her seeds and planted them, enduring four more months of hunger while she tended her field. Amina's story told me why the aid agencies' prediction of a million deaths from hunger in that famine was too high by a factor of 10." /It's hard doing research on extreme deprivation. I worried that dissecting the details of hunger might harden my heart, leave me immune to distress. I feared that describing the "coping strategies" of the poorest of the poor might cause humanitarians to stand aside, leaving the afflicted on their own. But I also hoped that understanding how people survive -- and why at times they don't -- might save lives. Aid agencies are learning, and the science of disaster relief has advanced. I'm happy to say that today's humanitarianism is more professional than it was 20 years ago..."...

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