On every continent, from the green depths of the Amazon basin to the icy reaches of the Arctic tundra, children raised in tribal communities are taught the skills and values that have ensured the survival of their peoples for generations.
In Malaysia, Penan children help to build homes from tree saplings and giant palm leaves; beneath the blue-green surface of the the Andaman Sea, Moken children learn to catch dugong, crab and sea-cucumber with long harpoons; in Mongolia, Tsaatan children are taught the ancient herding skills of their parents by corralling reindeer on the grasslands.
Tribal children are the inheritors of their territories, languages and unique ways of seeing the world; human repositories of their ancestors’ knowledge. As they are typically brought up in communities where the solidarity of the group is crucial to survival, children are taught that life is about ‘we’, not ‘I’, and balance with nature, not destruction.
Over recent decades, however, many tribal children have witnessed – and experienced – dispossession, disease and despair due to land theft, forced assimilation into mainstream societies and ‘development’ schemes. If their homelands continue to be threatened by destructive external forces; if their values and ways of life are not granted greater respect, the the future of tribal children will be as precarious as their childhoods have often been traumatic.
We are not here for ourselves, said Roy Sesana, a Gana Bushman from Botswana. We are here for our children, and the children of our grandchildren.
I want them to be able to see the stars, but not through industrial smoke, he said. I want them to drink the stream-water without falling ill, and wake to the call of the piha bird, instead of miners’ motor pumps.
The UN has officially declared two parts of Somalia to be in famine amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years.
Mark Bowden, humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, said on Wednesday that famine conditions now existed in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of the country.
He warned: “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.
"We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need."
He added that the lack of resources is alarming. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas.”
UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by al-Shabaab, Islamist insurgents affiliated to al-Qaida, requesting aid in southern Somalia, but said the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry – especially children – and has contributed to the current crisis. The Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions are understood to be controlled by al-Shabaab. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it was seeking further security guarantees from the rebel group that it can deliver greater amounts of assistance in the area to prevent more hungry people from becoming refugees.
The drought in east Africa has left an estimated 11 million people at risk, but Somalia has been the worst hit country as it is already wracked by decades of conflict. The most affected areas of Somalia are in the south, particularly the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.
The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said the crisis represented the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today, in terms of scale and severity.
"Current humanitarian response is inadequate to meet emergency needs," it said. "Assuming current levels of response, evidence suggests that famine across all regions of the south will occur in the coming one to two months. A massive multisectoral response is critical to prevent additional deaths and total livelihood/social collapse and, most immediately, interventions to improve food access and to address health/nutrition issues are needed."
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development secretary, said: “In Somalia, men, women and children are dying of starvation. The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become.
"It is time for the world to help but sadly the response from many countries has been derisory and dangerously inadequate. Britain is playing its part, with help for more than 2 million people across the Horn of Africa. Now others must do the same."
A famine is measured by rates of hunger, malnutrition and deaths, but the key to it is that it must be widespread.
Technically, a famine is a mortality rate of more than two people per 10,000 per day; acute malnutrition reaching more than 30%; water consumption becoming less than four litres a day; and intake of kilocalories of 1,500 a day compared with the recommended 2,100 a day.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Somalia due to the drought and conflict, and refugees are dying of causes related to malnutrition either during the journey or very shortly after arrival at aid camps. On Sunday, the UNHCR began emergency airlift flights in Nairobi to help hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries.
A giant cargo jet chartered by UNHCR landed in Nairobi with 100 tonnes of tents for the Dadaab refugee camp complex near the Kenya-Somalia border.
The UN says nearly half of the population in Somalia is facing a humanitarian crisis and in urgent need of aid. The number of people in crisis has increased by more than 1 million in the last six months. More than 166,000 Somalis have fled the country since the start of the year, with more than 100,000 of those leaving since May.