With respect to the Henne "balloon boy" and his family and with disgust aimed at the fixated media covering them, there are real tragedies in the world that the 24 hour news cycle should be covering. According to the United Nations, 11.6 million Africans have been forced from their homes by wars and other conflicts and 45% of all displaced persons in the entire world. The African continent also has some 2,659,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Some 2 million people were newly displaced during the course of last year.
"Africa is the continent most affected by the scourge and tragedy of forced displacement," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. "While refugee populations have declined in recent years, internal displacement continues to rise and the number of people uprooted from their homes is mounting."
Oxfam International reported in September that 23 million people were facing severe hunger due to climate change- exacerbated drought in East Africa. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for over ten years," Paul Smith Lomas, Oxfam's East Africa Director said in a statement.
"Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa ... due to the growing influence of climate change."
Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda are the worst hit, while Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania are also suffering ill effects.
During the weeklong African Union summit that will start Monday in the capital, Kampala, the leaders are expected to sign a pledge to help the displaced across the continent, according to the U.N. agency for refugee issues. The agreement "would be the first legally binding international instrument on internal displacement having such broad regional scope," the agency said.
Oxfam International accused Kenya and Ethiopia of housing Somali refugees in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. It said the Somali government also is abandoning its internally displaced.
"Somalis flee one of the world's most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans," said Robbert Van den Berg, a spokesman for Oxfam International in the Horn of Africa.
"Hundreds of thousands of children are affected, and the world is abandoning the next generation of Somalis when they most need our help."
Maybe instead of sending relief, perhaps we should be sending them weather balloons to launch their kids. At least then we'd notice the catastrophic problems that the press seems to largely ignore.