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. matt

    Preventable by god.

    August 9, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  2. Racheal

    Thank you for reporting this. There is so little global news in mainstream US media, it is refreshing yet depressing. I hope this will may help people in the US realize how lucky we are. Even if you have the Dems and Repubs, at least we are not suffereing like these people. Count your blessings.

    August 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  3. Joe, Louisville, KY

    It's fairly obvious the region cannot support that many people – famine is a natural consequence and giving aid will be at best a temporary patch. They should move somewhere that is better suited to agriculture.
    Firemen do not leave victims in burning buildings – they take them to where it isn't burning.

    August 9, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  4. Nino Brown

    Im a Somalian born and raised in Atlanta GA, currently residing in NYC. All I have to say is that Somalia is a hellhole, pure and simple.

    August 9, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  5. Daniel Nuckels

    People turn on the TV, see things, that they think, they care about . For over, the last 60 plus years, TV has shaped the minds of the people, who have watched it. Like radio before that, and now the Internets of today. The U.S., U.N., Aid Organizations, & other Countries have been trying for years, to help these people. But it always, someone else fault. As a Veteran, I feel, that the 40 service members die in vein, trying to help these people. I am proud of them, for going over there and trying help these people. The love ones, they left behind, had a really hard time too. So if you all want to vent, why don’t you do something and stop the Blame Game. Be All You Can Be & Do The Right Thing!!!!!

    August 9, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  6. Warka

    It's funny how people can be heartless sometimes. This is not something that could have been prevented. Today America the greatest nation in the world because at times of disaster they chose to be in the frontline and show mercy and help those in need. America chose to help in Haiti, in Egypt, in Libya, Indonesia and so much more. Now i ask America to help 1 more time. Yes, Al-Shabab played a big role in destroying this great country but this is not a reason for us not to help. Just 1 dollar goes a long way. Imagine if it was your own family who couldn't eat and welfare wasn't around it is your obligation as a human being to stand up and help them out. Well Somalians are not as fortunate and not able to protect themselves we as humans should stand up for them. These are my people, my family and I pray that you see their loss and donate whatever y opu can. There are many fundraisers around the country going on right now and yopu can help. A dollar goes a long way.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  7. Bo Twillman

    Somalia has been a 3rd world dump for the past 20 years and it will continue to be so as long as there are Muslim extremist and corrupt politians running the country. We act surprised that this is happening yet again. In reality it never ended. There has not been a "prosperous" era in the recent history of Somalia nor will ther be any time soon. We tried to distribute food and they killed over 40 peacekeepers last time so who would want to go in and try to help these people again. Let them fend for themselves, They want Sharia law, let them have it and all that comes with it. We will check in with them in another 20 years to see how you are doing. Good Luck Somalia!

    August 9, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  8. Jim

    of course it's preventable, but that region of the world is still too primitive for the kind of stability required. If the land was farmed by people who understand modern agriculture and they practiced birth control there would never be another famine there. But until you wipe out the savage war lords who enjoy ruling through bloody terror you will never have those things.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  9. Irene

    We go to war in countries where there is economic benefit for us – this is an area where we should go to war for the people. I do not mean America alone – all countries, UK, France, Germany, Canada Italy, you name it they should be there. When it is sorted government wise and the terrorists removed, then a new infrastructure needs to be put in place where they can fend for themselves and we do not have to keep repeating this process. If we build a good farming and water system this will create employment, feed the community and reduce prices. We spend billions putting in gas and oil pipelines, maybe we need to spend money on water pipelines – we have floods in some areas and drought in others – transfer the excess from one to the other. One of the big problems is THEY do not want to change their ways. They want the west to help feed and water them but they do not want to live the western way and build decent houses, road, start limiting family sizes. I just read about the tribal wars in Kenya where one tribe get circumcised and the other doesn’t and the one who does, is kidnapping and attaching the other tribe to forcefully circumcise them – how barbaric Education is core to the process, and working on population numbers is also a priority.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  10. greg

    C'mon really??? We tried to help them and got tossed out on our ear and brave American boys who were serving to help those people got killed.I don't expect the somali people to overthrow the terrorists themselves but if they want out help, they need to help point out the bastards so we can clear them out...but maybe that day is gone too.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  11. Tricia

    Turning away may not alleviate their pain, but neither will tuning in. I can't stop terrorism in Somalia. Only the Somalis can do that.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  12. Doug

    This is exactly how it started last time. Tear-jerking reports of starving children in Somalia, followed by our intervention, followed by the slaughter of 18 of our troops in Mogadishu by the grateful Somali people. See Sam Kinison's "World Hunger" lecture for both the root cause and solution to this problem. You can't fix the problem with more food. That's what caused it in the first place. When you feed the bears, they reproduce more, when you stop feeding them, the excess population starves – and they may eat you as their last meal. The world doesn't need more Somali pirates, insurgents, thugs, and terrorists. The world needs less of them and nature is taking care of that. Let her finish and stop breeding cohorts of children that are only going to starve to death in 10 or 20 more years.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  13. Gerry K.

    Very well done, Mr. Cooper! I was pleasantly surprised, shocked even, by the honest, accurate description of the villains of this story, the "...terrorist group of Islamic extremists called the Al Shabaab ... [who have] instituted strict sharia law...." Hardly PC.

    Shocking because of the Obama Administration's relentless efforts to erase such terms from our lexicon and our minds.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  14. ricky

    "BILLIONAIRES SHOULD CHIP IN AND RELIEVE THIS" How? It isn't a lack of avaliable food to send, it is a lack of any form of government that will allow the food into the country. When will the U.N. step in and take action against this rabble of Islamists? When will the Islamic world denounce these vermin and demand humanitarian actions? They denounce the West readily enough, but refuse to speak out or help their own. Where is the compassion in Islam, the 'religion of peace' ?

    August 9, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  15. Jennifer

    MANY THANKS TO YOU & YOUR TEAM + CNN AT LARGE FOR SHOWCASING BOTH THE IMMEDIATE SITUATION & HOW IT CAME INTO BEING. Please continue to follow up on this dynamic situation and probe into how people, groups (including both ngo's as well as companies), and governments are attempting to make a positive difference.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  16. Greg Gilbert

    Nearly everything is preventable. We could radically change the third world by offering poor people sterilization and give them a small payment that would be huge by their standards.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  17. Gwen

    I agree...this should have been prevented.We are living in an age where the world sees all and knows all-nothing is kept secret especially the issues of injustice.The sad truth is" the world was watching but it just did not care".

    August 9, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  18. Doug

    We waste so much here, and then read this.. I feel ashamed.. I can't imagine this horror !

    August 9, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  19. Roland

    "If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD–and he will repay you!" Proverbs 19:17

    Anderson, thanks for sharing this story. Please report on the many Christian aid organizations (e.g. Save Africa's Children & Lutheran World Relief) that are helping people there so that we in America can at least send prayer & money to help our fellow human beings who are literally starving to death as we continue in our lavish comfortable lives as though there is no just God who loves, cares for and created ALL of us.May God awaken our sensitivities to one another here & abroad.In Jesus we have the perfect example-we were his enemies yet He came in love to rescue us from sin, hell, satan & ourselves. Those who have been touched by his grace should be first to model His love to those in need.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  20. Matt

    I agree with Anderson that the famine was preventable. If Somalia had a functioning, competent government, it could have used outside assistance to develop ways to gather rain water, tap underground water, irrigate crops, etc. Given that Somalia is a bunch of unorganized factions and tribes, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Feeding the starving people will help alleviate their suffering now, but it doesn't fix the underlying problem that causes these famines. What should the U.S. do, other than continue to provide food aid? I have no idea.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  21. Martin

    Stop war.every earthling.war is everywhere.inside our homes.our marital life.our institutions.the air we breath.as in pollution.the parliament.our governments.our brothers .sisters oops .it seems we are after each others throats.ask yourself a simple question? Whom has war ever beneffited?war spoils stinks like halibut.human being needs only a stepping stone to move on .if i gave it to you and you throw it out on the window.then i suppose you will leave yourself hanging on a precarious position.some people have turned into savages.when u kill you are only wasting talent that could have been useful to humanity.what a waste.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  22. Patel

    How cone rich arabs are not contributing anything. All they are doing is giving millions to somalian terrorist. Somalia is just south of Saudi Arabia..Saudis make billions with no budget deficit.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  23. Mark

    How is it that the media will spend milliones of dollars traveling around the world talking and reporting about famine and how we (A broke Country and Economy) should help, but yet right here right now there are children starving and dying?

    August 9, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  24. MichaelWSF

    My heart breaks for these people. I wish and pray that I had the resources to make positive change in many of their lives.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  25. Laurie

    We can't save the world. The US can't even seem to save themselves. The world has provided aid to Africa for over 20 years and people are still starving. What's happening in that area needs to play out, without outside intervention. All we are doing is pronlonging the inevitable, and at a cost to other areas that could actually benefit from the help.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  26. fritz

    So much of the errors in American/African relations are preventable. I'd guess most of it, but we're so involved with the rest of the world seems unimportant. Everything from Ebola outbreaks to Somalia and the deaths of white farmers, to the BS going on in Northern Africa (Egypt, etc)........It's mostly prevenatble, but money rules the table, and we now have none to offer in assistance. Oh, and we did a great job in Darfur, Sudan...............more "assistance like this might make one forget the continent even exists!

    August 9, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  27. Bill W

    susan, u must be an obama lover. asking our billionares to chip in. why? what good will it do? the terrorists run things there and the money will never make it to those people. me personally, i dont care about whats going on down there. there is no saving those people. there is no saving muslims.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  28. Capt. Carl

    This has gone on for 30 + years and still we give and give. MOVE it's sand and rock you can't grow a thing there to feed your self's or live stock. The U.S. keeps sending are hard earn tax dollars there and a second round of kids are born and we send a another 100M to do what? Stop the cycle MOVE them all over Africa and the U.N. stop letting people live there. Now if some dummy go's and builds a dead stick house there your on your own. No one is coming to help you, feed you, take care of your kids, kill the bad guy's.. DON'T live there it's a DESERT for god's sake....

    August 9, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  29. Jake

    Perhaps the people of Somalia shouldn't have attacked our soldiers and mutilated their bodies. We all know what happened in 1993 and it wasn't just the troops of a few warlords. Women and children protected men with guns, they hid men with RPGs who shot our Blackhawks down. That's why Americans don't care. Americans sent troops to help and they was attacked and killed. Screw Somalia.

    August 9, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  30. Jim

    Enough of this emotional extortion! Let them starve!

    August 9, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  31. R. Hyde

    Darwinian law. I was there just short of 19 years ago, in 1993. Preventable? Unlikely, at least not by outside influences. Only the Somalis could have prevented it and to do so would require them to change their culture entirely or go back to being a small, nomadic. agririan culture. All of the modern science in the world can't make the Horn of Africa suitable for sustainable, static agriculture. That leaves becoming an import society, bringing in their food from elsewhere. Unfortunately, they have no natural resource, certainly no tourism, and no industry to support that. I suppose we could set up an industrial society based on cheap labor, but we would just be pilloried for that like we are for everything else we try to do. Sure we would be accussed of setting up sweat shops and engaging in slavery.

    August 9, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  32. Philip L

    The problem with Somolia is that they reproduce more than the land can possibly support and is complicated by never ending civil wars. Depsite decades of war and famine the Somilians maintain a postive birth to death ratio.
    What is needed in Somalia is not foreign food delivieries but birth control and peace. Just dropping rice and condensed milk is a band aid on a flood.

    August 9, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  33. Ted Morris

    You know when I stopped caring about Somalia and the struggles of her people? October 3 & 4, 1993.

    Andy, you talk about the sadness of it all...how nothing has changed in the nineteen years since your last visit, and so forth. And, while you give passing mention of it in your story, you (and most of the rest of the country) seem to all but have forgotten the American soldiers who were killed and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by the very people we were there to help.

    No thanks. Not one more dime...not one more life...wasted on this country.

    August 9, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  34. L.C.Ringo

    Preventable by whom?? Certainly not the Somalis themselves; they seem intent on destroying each other. So...who?

    August 9, 2011 at 6:22 am |
  35. Andrew Hawkins

    It would be interesting to find out, how much money over the decades has been donated to these countries to help with famine, and to what end. Nothing has changed. We all feel for them, but when people are going hungry in our own country, who should come first.

    August 9, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  36. Galen

    Throwing money at the situation isn't going to change things in the long term. These people need real reform, and as long as terrorists have their way, it isn't happening. It's not the USA's responsibility to do something about it. We're in enough trouble sticking our nose in places it doesn't belong. Let us take care of our own problems over here first and foremost, politicians can always try to play hero later. Is this article heartbreaking? Absolutely. Is it our concern? Not until we've taken care of the poor and starving on our own soil.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:54 am |
  37. Jeff Michael

    We tried alleviating famine in Somalia in the early '90s. Unless you were Mark Bowden or Ridley Scott, it didn't turn out so well.

    Somalia is the worst failed state there is. And that's saying something.

    And the only people who can save Somalia...are Somalians.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  38. AL

    Anderson, I've always enjoyed and respected your fair reporting, except this time. That country is and has been out of control for 30 years. How many US troops must die there just to feed an over populated, population. Please show me the article in the Constitution where the US taxpayer is responsible for feeding the world...in case you have missed it the US is broke ( and us taxpayers have had it, check-book is closed !!!)

    August 9, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  39. Lisa

    We can't, no matter how helpless we feel or how removed we are, stop caring about these people. We can support those who can make a difference, we can pray, we can not forget them. Thanks for your reporting – even though it's heartbreaking to watch.

    August 9, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  40. Diane

    Yes, it could be partially preventable if the Somali people themselves stood up for themselves against these militants and took back control of their own country. That won't do much about the drought situation, however People Power can work wonders IF the people are prepared to fight for themselves.

    August 9, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  41. herbskel

    Quattrone. Has hit the point. "I am tired of it." It is called sympathy fatigue and we are asked to be sympathetic to the same groups time after time. I can tell you next year's story today, "Somalia over populated and starving" bellows the headline, as though we've never heard it before. The U.S. steps in with a great heart, but in the face of absolutely no aid from other African countries nor a single Muslim country. Name a Muslim leader who has called out Al Shabaab. The Chinese prove once again, they are not a global member with their silence. We hear it disaster after disaster. And the U.N.? I am surprised the Chinese didn't veto the famine!!!! Time to let it go.

    August 9, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  42. Steve Z

    I hate to say it, but they had their chance. The innocent people there are at the mercy of the warlords. But as an American I never want to see our guys go back there again. We tried to stop the killing and end the hunger once before, and got caught up in a civil war for our trouble. Sorry, but whatever help they are hoping for now won't be coming from us.

    August 9, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  43. ibrad

    Where are all the other African countries ? Why are they not trying to fix a problem in their own back yard. I believe this was a lot better place under british rule. I feel for the children & mothers but why O why do they buy guns over food in that whole region?

    August 9, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  44. Otome

    Please, I'd like to know why you stated that it was preventable.

    Man, unfortuntate situation.

    August 9, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  45. Salma

    This is very sad, I am in tears, I will do all I can to help, people please donate whatever you can and save a child's life. Anderson keep up the great work and may my God be with you, God bless you and Dr, Gupta. Mama-Afrika: Mnpls, Mn

    August 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  46. Gary Puckett

    This is not a disaster that can be cured with money, from the U.S. or from anyone. Like most starvation in the world it's a political problem caused by maniacs that view their power as more important than human life, even if it's every human life on the planet. Where are the Muslim aid organizations in this conflict? Where are the Muslim political organizations that should be trying to reign in Al Shabaab? Where is the U.N.? If ever there is a situation that justifies U.N. military intervention this is one of them. But if they intervene...then what? Who is in power? Does the civilized world set up a government only to end up in another war with another extremist Muslim army?

    August 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  47. Alma Saravia, Esq.

    Dear Anderson, I have been following your reports from Dadaab and I wholeheartedly thank you for educating the world about the famine and death there. Several months ago, my cousin, Lara Jacobson, M.D,. went to Dabaab - she is a physician (specialiing in pediatric infectious diseases) with the Center for Disease Control. Lara was also in Haiti and I know that the media can not begin to capture the magntifute of the suffering and the urgent need for aid. Please keep filing your reports. Respectfully, Alma

    August 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  48. Nevard

    Long ago when the world was under populated human resources were highly coveted by early civilizations. Most couples hoped for sons because males are stronger and children were expected to care for their parents when the parents became frail. Male/female unions were celebrated by an entire community because offspring usually followed and that meant not only more communal hunters and gatherers but more to defend from invasions. Children were often captured from other tribes to enhance their own. Even native americans practiced that to some degree. But Somalia doesn't need any more children. This planet doesn't need any more. Stop the production!

    August 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  49. sue

    There's so much contributing to this horrific problem in Somalia. Thank you for showing what is so difficult to see. We need to know and perhaps this won't need to happen again. We at home with children and jobs in the US think life can be difficult but need to remember that it's our humanity and reaching out to help that makes us really alive.

    August 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  50. Melissa

    Thank you for letting the world know what is going on there.What can we do too help? Is there a way to send funds ?You and your team stay safe.

    August 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
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