13. AFRICA'S UNKNOWN DISASTER
On June 14, 1980, The Economist, of London, warned its readers "A
disaster of huge proportions has hit northeast Africa. Hundreds of people,
mainly children, are dying every day from starvation. Most are victims
of drought, but three million are also refugees from war and civil strife.
"The disaster has gone largely unpublicized. It has none of the
drama that kept the Vietnamese boat people and Cambodia's refugees in
the world's headlines. Their suffering were largely man-made; culprits
could be identified. In Africa droughts are endemic, and the continent's
wars seem endless. Disaster is taken for granted, and aid agencies have
had little success in alerting the world to the impending tragedy."
Whatever the reason, the tragedy in Africa stayed on the media's back
burner until early 1981. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Africans died
in 1980 and as many as 60 million people were said to be endangered.
In March, 1981, it was estimated that 150 million Africans are facing
The Economist article ended by saying "Only a coordinated international
effort saved the Cambodian survivors; nothing less will avert a larger
tragedy in northeast Africa."
Today the mass media are generating the public opinion that will lead
to such a coordinated international effort; unfortunately, the media's
action comes more than a year and tens of thousands of human lives too
The failure of the media to alert the public of the tragic extent of
the disaster in Africa last year qualifies this story for nomination
as one of the "best censored" stories of 1980.
World Press Review, August 1980, "Africa's 'Unknown' Disaster,"
adapted from The Economist, June 14, 1980; San Francisco Chronicle,
March 28, 1981, Millions are starving," by Gregory Jaynes, New
York Times Service.