MIT Problem-Solvers in The Horn of Africa by Theodore Golfinopoulos

Aug 21, 2011

Problem-Solvers: The Horn of Africa Needs You

Right now, there is a famine in East Africa, and especially in the Horn of Africa, a region of the world covering territory in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia.  Conditions in Somalia are particularly dire.  It is a fact that many thousands of people have died of starvation, with children comprising a large fraction of the grim toll.  International aid organizations are working heroically to combat the famine, while refugees exhibit heroism and resilience in their flight toward help.

But the present surge in international aid is a short-term response to a long-term problem in a region which has seen terrible famines before.  The drought, which has precipitated this most recent episode, is not the only enemy.  Indeed, the refugee camps set up in Kenya, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, now overflowing, were already filled even before the current crisis.  There are basic challenges in the Horn of Africa, related to infrastructure, education, health, and regional politics, which must be addressed if a lasting solution is to be found.

Here at MIT, we pride ourselves on being problem-solvers.  No doubt readers of this blog are also problem solvers, probably with an idealistic bent.  For those who are interested in turning empathy into action, here is a bit more information about the situation, since the first step in treating the disease is identifying the cause:

A recent article from the BBC reporting from a refugee camp in Kenya: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14481103

An excellent interview with Harvard Professor Robert Paarlberg describing the decline in US contribution to long-term development projects in Africa, and particularly in the Horn of Africa http://www.npr.org/2011/08/14/139620268/helping-africa-grow-its-own-food-a-declining-effort

MIT students interesting in learning techniques to contribute to development efforts in the region might find helpful courses offered by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (Course 11), including 11.701: Introduction to International Development and Planning (OCW: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/urban-studies-and-planning/11-701-introduction-to-international-development-planning-fall-2010/index.htm).

Another excellent academic resource at MIT is D-Lab – read more about the wonderful work done by this group, and ways to get involved, at their website here: http://d-lab.mit.edu/ And for those interested in contributing to (or seeking employment with) aid organizations:

1. Mercy Corps is one organization which addresses both short- and long-term issues, particularly those relevant to small-scale farmers in the region.  Here is a description of some of their work: http://www.mercycorps.org/countries/ethiopia http://www.mercycorps.org/hornofafricahungercrisis http://www.mercycorps.org/countries/somalia

2. Another group is ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) – they list their projects in Africa here http://www.acdivoca.org/852571DC00681414/ID/ourwork_africa

There are many other excellent institutions seeking to help people in the Horn succeed – if you would like to write about them, please add a comment below.

I’d also like to plug the excellent work of a graduate student currently in Norway, on the subject of machine translation of the Somali language – check out his blog herehttp://donchaknow.com/blog/tags/somali/ (If you’re interested in contributing to machine translation efforts, then drop a line via a comment below.)

This blog has a small voice, but it joins a large chorus shouting for responsible action.  Remembering, of course, as the cliche goes, actions speak louder than words.

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