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Thoughts On Norway and the Famine in Somalia

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How will history remember the summer of 2011? You could make a long list of events. Certainly at the top are the famine in East Africa and the mass shootings that took place in Norway.

These two tragedies intertwined when representatives from Norway attended an East Africa donor conference in July, right after the shootings.

Arvinn E. Gadgil of Norway’s foreign ministry said: “It was an astonishing moment. In a meeting about the potential death of 12 million people, Norway got a standing ovation for a full minute. I asked our UN ambassador who said that he had not seen anything like it during his 30 years in the UN system. People all around the world were clearly shocked by the events in Oslo.”

Norway could have turned inwards in the wake of their own tragedy. They could have put aside areas of international concern. They could have stopped reaching out, for at least the time being. That did not happen.

Instead, Norway went to work to save lives in East Africa. At the end of July, two planes from Norway touched down in Somalia to distribute emergency rations for 50,000 hungry Somalis. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) distributed the food in the Mogadishu area.

Marianne Alfsen of NRC wrote, “People are dying as we speak. The quicker we act, the more lives can be saved. More shipments by plane are being planned, while emergency food is also on its way by sea.”

On Saturday July 31, two AN-12 planes from Norway landed in Mogadishu loaded with almost 28 tons emergency rations. (Gunhild Forselv/NRC)

The Norwegian government continued its donations to UN agencies to help them fight hunger. Dena Gudaitis of the UN World Food Programme says, “WFP is incredibly grateful to Norway for providing a generous and flexible contribution to WFP on a yearly basis for our overall relief operations. This year, WFP has allocated US$ 5 million from Norway funding to operations in Kenya and Ethiopia.”

This outpouring of generosity is a way of life for Norway. It can be seen in the actions of the government and charitable agencies. It’s also seen in the acts of individuals.

When Hanna Helmersen penned her memoir War and Innocence, she characterized the generosity of her home country during the Nazi German occupation. Children reached out to the hungry. Helmresen and her classmates gave some of their food, which was in short supply, to Russian prisoners being held by the German army in a camp near their home.

After the war, the Norwegian government showed this same spirit working with Herbert Hoover, America’s food ambassador. Hoover sought to organize relief to defeat the post-war famine. Norway was very cooperative in this effort, doing what it could even though the country had great needs of its own.

The charity American Relief for Norway typified the same spirit too. This agency, which was led by Norwegian Americans, did not forget the suffering in other countries. American relief for Norway helped to buy CARE packages for their hungry neighbors. That same generosity carries on today.

Gadgil said in July: “The question of whether I should travel to Rome when so many people have lost so much in the terrorist actions in Norway was a difficult one. But, as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said, we will respond to these atrocities with more humanity. Norway’s fight against poverty, for development and humanitarian compassion are what define us as a nation.”

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.