August 8th, 2011
04:27 PM ET

Cooper: 'This famine was preventable'

Perhaps you think you’ve seen it, heard it all before. Hunger in the Horn of Africa. Famine once again spreading in Somalia. It is an old headline, I suppose, it certainly has happened before, but that doesn’t lessen the horror of it: the sickening stench of a hospital room filled with dying children; the shock of seeing row after row of tiny, freshly dug graves.

It is hard to know what to say. There are statistics of course. An estimated 29,000 children under the age of five dead in the last three months. 3.2 million people in Somalia in need of immediate, life saving assistance. Well over two million Somalis have had to flee their homes to the capital Mogadishu or to neighboring countries. The numbers are numbing.

I am in Dadaab in Kenya, near the border of Somalia. There’s a network of refugee settlements here, in fact it’s now the largest refugee camp in the world. It was built twenty years ago to hold ninety thousand people, but there are now more than 400,000 here, and tens of thousands more camping in makeshift huts on the outskirts. What’s infuriating is that there is a camp that was built in 2010 that can house 80,000 more refugees, but the Kenyan government won’t allow it to open.

They are concerned about a whole generation of Somali refugees settling here. “The only solution is peace in Somalia,” one young refugee said to me, but the chances of that are remote. In fact the crisis taking place here is not just a result of the drought which is the worst one in sixty years, and high food prices, it’s also a result of the conflict which has made Somalia one of the most dangerous places on the planet. A terrorist group of Islamic extremists called the Al Shabaab has for the last several years been fighting for control of the country. In areas under Al Shabaab’s control they’ve instituted strict sharia law, and outlawed vaccinations for kids claiming they were a plot by the West to kill children. They’ve also kidnapped and killed aid workers, and prevented them from distributing food. Al Shabaab control much of southern Somalia. And that is where the drought has hit hardest.

I was in Somalia nineteen years ago this month reporting on the famine then. Some 300,000 thousand people died and thought the US/UN intervention saved many more lives by insuring food was delivered to those in need, more than 40 US troops were killed during Operation Restore Hope. Nineteen years later, it is depressing to be back. This famine was preventable. Warnings had been issued for a long time. The drought is not a sudden surprise. In parts of Kenya and Ethiopia, agricultural programs backed by US aid have improved agricultural output and helped those nations lessen the impact of the drought on some of their people, but in Somalia it is hard to create positive change when there is no real functioning government and Al Shabaab have proven the only thing they can do is destroy and kill. We will be broadcasting from here tonight, and inside Somalia tomorrow. I hope you tune in. I know some of it will be hard to watch, but turning away does nothing to alleviate their pain. So many here have already died unnecessary deaths, they’ve died on the side of the road, away from their homes, trying to get help. They’ve died in silence, and nothing remains to show that they ever existed at all.

Filed under: Anderson Cooper
soundoff (168 Responses)
  1. lucia wentzel

    There are still people in this world that has love in their hearts maybe some of those billionaires have it in their hearts and give some of those millions to those starving people. But who will get rid of Al Shabaab? 19 years it seems no change! Is it too big for all government to solve? By: Lucia A. W.

    August 21, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  2. Elizabeth

    It is very sad that poor people have to suffer the way the do when we have so many rich people who can help where is the compassion?where is the Love?Jesus is going to fix it all one day for those who can help I pray that you won't starve to death.

    August 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  3. Aftom

    We can't really be mad at the Kenyan government for not wanting to house all those refugees. While most people with a pulse can empathize with the plight of the displaced, we have to understand it is a big financial strain to support thousands of refugees. Every country is not America and should not be expected to borrow from China to appear diplomatic. They are doing the right thing for their country by saying "we do not have the resources to support all these people." We should take a page from their book. Just imagine how much we could knock off our debt now had we as a nation decided we can't afford multi-million dollar payouts to failing nation-states.

    August 21, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  4. Kesail

    First of all, helping people live should never be a choice. It is the right thing to do. These people aren't worried about paying more taxes,or their declining property values, or their country's credit rating being lowered. They are worried about where they are going to get water to drink and what scraps they can find to eat on a daily basis, things that you no doubt take for granted every day. Don't make the mistake of thinking you are better simply because you were born into a better situation. You are no better. We are all 100 percent Homo Sapian. Its time people realize this and move forward. And if we have to do it next year and the year after that and the year after that, we should. Stop looking at people's lives like a business decision and the world would be a better place. Peace Love and Unity

    August 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  5. Matt Ursery

    Famine and other social-economic issue will continue in Somalia until they are ready to help themselves. Although, there are a handful of individuals as well as a few countries with the power to put help them, it would not be fair to ask them to do so when that help would only be a bandaid.

    August 19, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  6. jose sanchezName*

    This is heart breaking and then America is worried about the market and the economy at least we are not going threw a drought and we have plenty to eat America needs to put there priorities in order and help those most in need and stop policing the world abroad all for power and greed if we learn to live in a monarchy where we have one king and every body is treated equally then we can resolve our issues at home somila would have had help

    from us but all those failed efforts that cost us the tax payers billions of dollars put us in dept but god bless American

    August 19, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  7. Ana

    I am a citizen of the world and these innocent people need our help and attention.

    We cannot simply turn away and lament ourselves later.

    In a world of flash mobs and looting let us use technology and disposable wealth to make this world fair and safe for all the creatures of this earth.

    Thank you for not letting their plight fade into obscurity.

    August 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  8. bella

    You know what I think it's outrageous that people like Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez make 23 million dollars just for setting in a chair and making comments on American Idol and yet these poor people are fighting just to stay alive.Or how about all the rappers and stars on Mtv cribs with their mansions...how is this world fair??I agree the rich have too much disproportionate money.They need to help out.Also how about teaching Somalia about birth control?

    August 16, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  9. fernace

    Yes, Mr. Cooper, it is depressing, mainly because it never stops! 40 years ago when I was a kid in my homeland of Sweden, it was the Starving Children of Biafra who needed help! Every year since then some poor starving nation, mostly on the African continent, needs assistance for their starving, dying refugees, who are placed in the middle of some military uprising! How are the kids in Biafra, or most recently, the refugees of Darfur!? Until the disenfranchised peoples of the disadvantaged nations, that are easy pickings for criminal groups, rise up in their own defense, there is not much the world can do but shore up the crumbling center & hope for the best! I understand the frustration, but we can't really expect one poor African nation with barely enough food to feed their own, to be willing to take on over 400,000 more starving people! Even opening the second camp can only help 170,000 refugees & Kenya is basically over-run by starving Somalis! This is the world at its ugliest, what can we do??

    August 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  10. Angela Wills

    If the government can pay 2 take terrorist family members from Iraq 2 the US 2 have life saving/altering surgeries on the American dime. Why can't we step in and aid these people who are actually dying? 29,000 children have died already, its not their fault they were born into poverty, so why should they have to die because we are to ashamed 2 say we can't help them because we spent all our money fightin a war that wasn't ours 2 begin with! Shaking my head at the US government!

    August 15, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  11. Jay

    I was there in Somalia in 1992-93 for operation restore hope. i saw the starving and dying children. those visions are permanently in my mind today. i would like to know who Cooper is refering to when he says it was "preventable". those people are not going to sit down with anyone and have a logical discussion as to why things need to be a certain way. they would just as soon cut your head off. when we got bloodied up in 1993 why did Clinton pull us out. that could have possibly save this mess now. the only ones that could prevent what is going on there is islamic radicals. we tried once and had a commander in chief with no back bone so we choose to fail...sort of like what is going on now!

    August 15, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  12. Daniel Thurber

    Only when Islamic extreamisim is erradicated will the aid become available. I agree that this is a country that should not be, however, it dose exist and the people need help. With all the childerans aid groups out there there must be hope...because other then hunger that's all they have.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  13. maggidman

    What do you mean we have our own problems? we live in the richestsafest abundant nation on earth and you dont wanna help? i believe that all this is from the "monetary system" and the greed of the bankers of this government. Thos people deserve all the help they can get and i am ashamed to eat sometimes because i know their are people out there that live off of 1 dollar a day and eat as many calories in 1 week that we eat in one meal. we need to show compassion and pray for those people. God bless all the people who truly wanna help the Somalians and the Somalians as well. they will hopefully beng in paradise and thispoverty will never go awa. only God know an why all this must happen and it is for his perfect will. atese people will be in m.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  14. asuka

    IT disturbs ne that in Africa that there are numerous billionaires there in Africa. Why can each of them contribute a couple of millions or even a billion to help out with food and medicines.

    August 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  15. t a m e r a

    less talking more doing that is all !

    August 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  16. cynthia

    This is rediculous. ina totally undeveloped country- u cant ask people to stop having childen – we are all eachothers keeper- life is a gift- the only people with the mone in this country is the government – but the way the us is also headed- they keep it all and favor the corporations instead of the people. the people need to be tought skills- they are already here- it is cruel to let them die- of course- it is cruel to not hold their governments accountable. of course – it is probably not profitable tous

    August 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  17. tashan turner

    I just dont understand why cant the mega oil rich arab nations ever step up and help out? China where are you?

    August 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  18. david williams

    I cannot believe what I have read. That there are people commenting that are against helping these people is sad. Where did you folks leave your humanity? Anyone who has seen pictures of those suffering in the camps and isn't moved need to look closely at their souls. You all just make me sad.

    August 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  19. pjm

    29,000 innocent children of GOD, should not be dying before they really know how to live. Teach them how to feed themselves and have a governnment leader who cares. My heart just feels so broken that our world must be so... cruel. God bless the children and the people who try to help.

    August 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  20. amy

    boy u think your life is bad. then u hear about this. then realize how greatful u really r. pray for those poor people over there they really need it. may GOD help us all.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  21. kenneth

    Im sadden to hear about the people in somalia its a shame that the terrorist mistreat the people of that country i wish that they would show some compassion for the innonocent people of the country and leave them alone and educate each other on agriculture techniques to prevent famine from ever returning to there country

    August 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  22. Linda

    We suppose to love our brother as ourselves. We can all pray for this nation of people that are going thru desperate times. God will of a certianty bring a solution to the dying and hunger and other crises. Thanks Mr. Anderson, for reporting this may God, keep you and everyone involved safe.

    August 11, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  23. Mary Long

    The tortuous deaths of tens of thousands of children by starvation is a gut-wrenching tragedy. Our problems pale by comparison! How can we help to bring relief to these desperate people?

    August 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  24. Melanie

    Dear Anderson,

    Thank you for focusing on these African refugees who are dying, starving and naked.

    Why do you think the world focuses so much money and attention to Palestinian "refugees", who all have apartments, electricity, jeans and sneakers, health care, food, televisions, and plumbing in their "refugee camps", while African refugees are naked, starving, homeless, live in the dirt, and get only a fraction per capita of palestinian refugees in aid money, food, clothing and shelter and media coverage?

    While Africans get pennies, bread and water, Palestinians get billions of aid dollars, apartments, toothpaste and pasta and cheese- why the difference?

    Put a side by side photo of a Palestinian "refugee" next to a Somalian refugee- and you will question why world leaders have ignored the African poverty for so long.

    In both Sudan and Somalia, the Islamist insurgents have caused severe humanitarian crises. Thank you for reporting on this human misery and disaster of epic proportions.

    August 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  25. john ballard

    It is sad to hear about such suffering. We all need to pray and help

    August 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  26. Jennifer

    Yes it is preventable no country should suffer this way, and a child should never. Its doesn't matter what race the child is of where they are from. Any one like John B. who can even think of looking in to a childs eyes and tell them they are poor they dont deserve to eat is cruel. Yes, our country has our problems but with us being one of the wealthest countries in the world, not THE wealthest, but one of, we should be able to put a stop to ours problems as well. So this is not just a problem for Africa, but for everyone in every country around the world. For them to sit by and not help in some way is not only wrong but cruel.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  27. bobby

    how sad is it to hear people continue to say "its not our problem, its there fault there children are dying for continuing to breed" or "let them die there are to many of them". we as humanity are failing, the people who make these comments, i hope you will experience there pain.

    August 11, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  28. ernest sanchez

    Sad to see and hear that people that have nothing to eat or drink are just waiting to die but if u gather all the homeless in America we might not be to far behind and "yes" America is to be called on again to help we are the worlds aide to any country so we should lead in helping world hunger and to the terrorist what ever they wanna call themselfs were coming so be ready to die for a leader that has "no merit" again there is a reason why wars are fought in other countries other than ours this what Americans need to understand...!

    August 11, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  29. Elsa

    they didn't ask to die, why the people who has money not helping? all the famous people that spend money in buying fancy weardrobe for dogs and building many buildings aren't helping the people that are unfortunate to have it. shame to the celebrities that don't help the poors and that they show up with their$20 or $30 or dress and jewls on the red carpet and thalk about it when there are people dying couse the can't get food to save their life. I wish I was rich I would have change the world.

    August 11, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  30. Dina k

    The way to correct and prevent this human catastrophe is to change the entire socio-economic policy of the region. As soon as industry is brought in and people are allowed to work and own property, their lives will change. Continuously begging the world for handouts will never solve or prevent the devastation. This is what happens when communist/socialist despotism rules.

    August 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  31. hades65

    It would be better to spend your money on Africa in providing cash incentives for the poorest of the population to receive cash for sterilization. The cash sum would go far in the third world for positive environmental impact and the population would benefit in 20 years.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  32. Yasemin

    The children are paying in such a cruel way for what the adults worldwide are not able to address and fix. This should be the Number One issue WorldWide for all to solve and to put everything else on hold until the children in Somalia are healthy again. It is a humanitarian shame that life is going on for all except the ones who are slowly dying. Anderson, thank you for what you are doing. To add, I think it is time to bring in the CEOs, multi billionaires, presidents and put them all on the spot for what they will pledge now to immediate help. And ask everyone else to pay what they can, even if $1.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  33. Michael

    Where can I go to find information about how to help?

    August 10, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  34. Libaan Hersi

    yes it was why cant the world see our suffering? the international community ignored and turned a blind eye on Somalia. they intervene everywhere why not Somalia? a whole genaration of young Somalis are in a risk ox extinction, Somalia needs a foreign intervention deseprately and it has a chance now the militants have left the capital the amisom which back the intrim government need to be dubbled and and aid agencies must set a foot ground in Somalia. please share this or recommend. thank you

    August 10, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  35. Ali Hassan

    Its makes one wonder what kind of world we live in where upon hearing the death of thirty thousand babies under the age from starvation, some are so callous to focus on birth rates and factors rather then what can we do. Countless woman and chidlren have died and will continue to die walking endless miles, crossing international borders in hostile land for water. Call me crazy but I think its heartless to ponder at this stage about factors.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  36. kim desaro

    Anderson I cant imagine seeing this firsthand. famine in the world today is inexcuseable..if you were there 19 yeares ago that means the babes that survived are now starving teenagers..it makes me sick!!!!!what do we do? Iam just sick over this!!!!

    August 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  37. cheanell

    i think in this day and time with as much as we as a people have going on its easy to forget about the little people i think outa site outa mind but i NO its only the bible fulfilling itself

    August 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  38. Eric Watson

    No compassion for human life is going to damn the wealthy to eternal damnation and I am not a very religious person at all....

    August 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  39. peter

    if islam is so right,why dont they help there own?

    August 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  40. Keria

    Thank u so much to bringing though sad, a reflective piece of news- this should be a pointer to our government that division as no bearings on growth & development of a nation.

    Again, thank u for taking us into real journalism-away from 15min celebrities, priviledge but non productive "spotlight stealers" wink Kadashians etc

    August 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  41. Diana

    This was hard to watch. As we know, today we have problems everywhere – US, Europe, Middle East, Japan, Africa..., but the simple truth is that no one should die because of starvation. How is even possible to have Famine in 21st century? Many things don't make any sense in today's world.

    August 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  42. abdull

    Yes, it was "preventable" and yes, by anyone who cares human life. Thanks Cooper, the images were unpardonable.

    August 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  43. Joseph Hall

    these people need all the help they can get .Whether or not it was predicted is not the issue Help from the US or UN or agovernment that should be in place for them Help is needed That you for the messege

    August 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  44. Pashon

    This is a complete travesty. It seems to me that the nation is only eager to interfere when and if interference bestows benefits.

    August 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
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