The March 28, 2017 edition of The New York Times on the front page above the fold has a color image of a Somali child clearly starving to death. Heading up The Times’s international section is a full page story by Jeffrey Gettleman, “Drought and War Deepen Risk of Not just 1 Famine, but 4.” The story is accompanied by four photographs. Gettleman reports on famine or near famine in Somalia, northern Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan.
The famine story is not new, and relevant UN agencies have long been trying to get the attention of the developing world. Now that the story is getting attention, it must be anticipated that the U.S. media, at long last, will increase its reporting. Americans should be prepared to confront almost unspeakable—and largely man-made—tragedy with their morning coffee.
Once awakened, American public opinion usually demands that its government “do something” about a tragedy. That may pose a challenge for the Trump administration. The president’s “skinny budget” cuts the budget for the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State by about 30 percent. If the skinny budget, or something like it, is implemented, there will be no money, or only trifling amounts scattered over various agencies, for famine relief, just as there will be none for the support of UN peacekeeping operations. In February the UN organized a donor’s conference in Oslo with the goal of raising $1.5 billion for famine relief in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin. Donors, led by Norway, pledged $672 million. In what may be a sign of what is to come, the United States pledged nothing.