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Support Somalia (Because Mother Nature Ain't)

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SOMALIA FAMINE
AP

I have a small pond in my backyard.

It isn't big enough for recreational use. No fishing; no boating.

It's just pretty. But, fortunately it's big enough that, during the warmer months, I can use the water from the pond to irrigate my lawn.

The water is pumped out and through the irrigation system. It waters the grass, and then it makes its way back to the pond to repeat the cycle. It's very useful, but I certainly couldn't imagine drinking from it.

In 2008, on my first trip to Somalia as a UNICEF Ambassador, I saw a pond about the same size as the one in my backyard. It was in the middle of a somewhat barren stretch of land and it was, perhaps, the dirtiest water I had ever seen. But, for the people of the village I was visiting, it was the only source of water available for miles. I watched as young children played in it, as others bathed in it, and yes, as dozens of families loaded donkeys with jerry cans full of that turbid water and walked for miles to bring it back home. It wasn't the best of circumstances. But in the dry land of Somalia, that muddy pond was the only source of sustenance.

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It's now 2011, and it's been an incredibly hot summer all across the globe. Here at my house the pond in my backyard... well... it is struggling. It's still clean and pretty, but the level has dropped enough that I have had to turn off the pump that allows me to irrigate my yard with its water. Now, I'd have to pay to keep my lawn nice and green.

In Somalia the situation is a far worse. That small, but useful, pond I stood beside in 2008 is gone now. As are so many water sources throughout the entire nation Somalia, along with neighboring countries -- Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti -- are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. In fact, this drought has led to full-scale famine in parts of southern Somalia. This is all happening in a country whose people have not had access to much of the basic support that we take for granted, in part because Somalia has been without a functioning government for two decades.

With rising fuel and food prices, and drought, added to an already dire humanitarian situation, it seems that Mother Nature is kicking the people of Somalia while they are down.

In the mid-1980s, famine in Ethiopia generated media attention and massive outpouring of assistance from concerts like Live Aid and involvement from musicians recording the famous "We Are The World" record. Many of us remember the amount of attention and money raised for Ethiopian relief in 1985 and 1986. That same sense of urgency is needed today.

The U.N. estimates that more than 11 million people are already in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. More than 2.3 million children are acutely malnourished, including half a million at immediate risk of death. Thousands of families are crossing the border from Somalia as emergency therapeutic feeding centers are being set up by UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies in neighboring countries. In some places, half of the children are malnourished. In fact, thousands of children are so weak that they are dying en route -- before they make it to the water, food, and basic assistance they need to survive. Their mothers, with so few resources on the journey, are being faced with the impossible dilemma -- which child do I feed and which one do I allow to die?

UNICEF is using every means possible to reach these children. Their unrivaled expertise in responding to the unique needs of children affected by emergencies of all sorts is precisely why they have saved the lives of more children across the globe than any other humanitarian organization.

But they are entirely dependent on donations. They urgently need more than $300 million over the next six months alone to meet the basic needs and save the lives of countless children.

So, as I lament the drying out of my pretty little backyard pond and its inability to help keep my grass green this summer, I find myself faced with a decision FAR easier than the mothers of Somalia. A green lawn or the life of a child.

Therefore, there'll be no irrigation in my yard this summer. Instead, the money that I would have spent on watering my grass will go to UNICEF. A brown lawn is an extremely small price to pay for the life of a child, and the amount that would have spent on irrigation will go so much further in the hands of UNICEF.

The average family spends about $100 a month on watering their yard in the spring and summer months. That $100 dollars can feed a child for 100 days! Three months!

I challenge us all to consider reallocating our watering allowance to a cause so much more important than fescue.

I'm sure we can all agree that we would rather our grass die than a child.

To help, text "FOOD" to UNICEF (864233) to give $10, which can feed a child for 10 days, or visit www.unicefusa.org/donate/horn .