A Year Like No Other
Words alone cannot describe a year like 2020, which brought immense losses while showing us the true meaning of resilience. Through a selection of powerful photographs, we tell the story of a year that challenged us like never before.
Join us as we look back on the hardships we faced, mourn the lives lost, and celebrate the people and things, big and small, that inspired us and gave us hope.
In 2020, across the Horn and Eastern Africa, swarms of desert locusts devoured crops and threatened the livelihoods of vulnerable families. Extreme weather patterns in the Indian Ocean, caused by climate change, worsened drought and floods, and created the perfect conditions for the locusts to breed and spread.
The oldest and most dangerous migratory pest in the world, desert locusts are insects about the size of an adult hand. Their appetite is voracious – a swarm the size of Los Angeles can eat as much food in a day as the entire population of Kenya.
One herder in Kenya detailed the desperate situation in his community for our team: “Conditions were just improving after the prolonged drought that affected us last year. The rains that came between October and January ensured there was enough pasture for our animals…only for the locusts to set in. They came and have cleared all the pasture. The ground is now bare, and our animals are going to die.”
Action Against Hunger’s teams continue to work hard to support farming and herding communities impacted by the locusts, providing cash transfers, treating malnutrition, helping women earn and save more income, and more.
Rehema fights hard to provide for her 4-year-old grandson, Rodrick. When he became malnourished early last year, she tried everything. Eventually, she and her husband made the long and difficult journey to the hospital with Rodrick. The grandparents left at 4am and walked the whole way, taking turns carrying Rodrick through rivers and over rough terrain.
Nine hours later, Rodrick was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with serious forms of malnutrition: edema and kwashiorkor – conditions caused by lack of protein that results in swelling and lethargy.
Quickly, Action Against Hunger’s team stabilized the boy and put him on a treatment regimen. Rodrick was an easy patient: he loved the milk formula and got excited when he saw nurses preparing it. After a week, Rodrick felt better – the swelling went down, his appetite returned, and he was active again. He was discharged, and they returned home.
“I am happy Rodrick’s health has improved. I’m grateful he is doing well, he is walking...now he is much better,” says Rehema.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Action Against Hunger went to work quickly. Our teams started by utilizing our expertise in water, sanitation, and hygiene to help prevent the spread of the virus in the communities across the globe.
In health centers and public spaces, we installed new hand-washing stations and provided much-needed hygiene supplies, including soap. On the streets, we spread the word about virus prevention measures. In many places, we provided hygiene kits to help families stay healthy at home.
In Somalia, in addition to helping prevent the spread of the pandemic and continuing to provide lifesaving health and nutrition services, Action Against Hunger expanded to manage cases of COVID-19.
As private hospitals shut down due to fears of the virus, our teams stepped up our support of health centers, treatment facilities, and isolation wards. In De Martini Hospital - which was, for many months, the only operational quarantine hospital in Mogadishu - we provided PPE and medical supplies. We also supported frontline health staff with training and salaries.
At times, the healthcare workers at De Martini lived at the hospital to keep their families safe. As Dr. Xilwo Daud Ibrahim told us: “The reason I went to school to get an education is that, if such pandemics take place, I can be on the frontline to support my people. I made a personal decision not to go home to reduce the risk of infecting my family.”
Despite these obstacles, doctors like Ibrahim showed up each day to save lives. “I will serve my people as long as I live,” she said.
Central African Republic
During the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, research shows that many people didn’t seek basic health services because they feared contracting the disease. Many people died -- not only from Ebola, but from other health issues. People stopped bringing themselves and their children into clinics, and routine services, such as vaccine programs, were paused. These “indirect mortalities” resulted in as many deaths as Ebola itself.
At Action Against Hunger, we took these lessons to heart, establishing precautionary measures in all of our health and nutrition centers to help patients feel safe seeking care for malnutrition and other illnesses. This includes providing PPE to health center staff - like the one featured in the photo above, at the pediatric hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic - as well as installing new handwashing stations, working longer hours and more days to reduce crowding, putting in social distancing measures in waiting areas, and more.
Hunger doesn't stop for a pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 has driven millions more families into food insecurity. However, the traditional ways of diagnosing malnutrition - where a health worker measures a child's weight, height, and upper arm circumference - are harder to do safely with social distancing and travel restrictions in place.
The solution is an approach we at Action Against Hunger have been using for many years. With a simple measuring band and the right training, we can empower mothers and fathers to check their child's nutrition status, at home, without a health worker present. When the parent detects malnutrition, or when the measuring band reads yellow or red, they know they have to take their child to a health center for treatment. Diagnosing children earlier reduces the severity of malnutrition and improves treatment outcomes.
Throughout 2020, we have been expanding these parent-focused programs - helping to make sure that, even during a pandemic, malnourished children receive the care they need.
In Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis grew even more severe in 2020 due to ongoing conflict and COVID-19. One in six people is expected to be one step away from famine in early 2021, according to the most recent Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) data analysis.
These alarming figures show “what aid workers have known for some time: Yemen is going backwards and the threat of famine once again looms large,” said Jon Cunliffe, Middle East Regional Director for Action Against Hunger in December. “Hunger levels are exploding, conflict is intensifying, and unkept financial promises mean that life-saving services are being cut, despite the overwhelming need.”
Yemen’s conflict has been particularly hard on healthcare in the country. Medicines are scarce, and health facilities are vastly under-staffed and under-resourced. In the photo above, Abdullah, a 52-year-old doctor, sits in his office in an Action Against Hunger health clinic in Abyan province. The building has no electricity, so they have to keep medicines temperature-controlled in a small cooler. The clinic is the only one available to families in the village and surrounding areas but it lacks many of the things needed to serve a desperate population: quality facilities, sufficient medicines, enough staff, and more equipment.
"I wanted to feel that I'm doing something for my community and not be idle, that's why I committed myself to raising awareness about COVID-19," said Tondrua Ali, a 52-year-old former teacher in Juba, South Sudan. When schools closed, he joined Action Against Hunger's team of COVID volunteers.
"As a volunteer I spread awareness to households door-to-door, I also track the water filling in every washing station, I register the tallies of those who are washing their hands at the water stations, and I help put together the COVID-19 quarantine kits," explained Tondrua.
The volunteers who walk the streets in Juba at times can hear shouts from the sidewalk: "We don't care about corona, we care about hunger!" The pandemic has devastated South Sudan's economy, which relies heavily on the global oil market. As a result, food prices have increased and hunger is growing. Still, Tondrua's messages are resonating.
"My proudest accomplishment is that the communities are practicing those preventive measures and they are paying attention to the message," he says. "I have seen how important awareness is to educate and protect people, so after COVID-19 I would like to study more about disaster management and risk awareness. If I learn more, then the next time I will be more prepared to help."
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, the world’s poorest people continued to feel the impacts of climate change.
"I am one of the climate refugees," said Laila, 26, who lives in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Nearly 30 years ago, a catastrophic cyclone hit her country and forced thousands of people to lose their homes. The government provided plots of land for shelter for displaced people, which is where Laila's parents sought refuge.
Married at 16, Laila's husband did not help provide for the family and eventually left. Laila found work to support herself and her two daughters, but when COVID-19 arrived, her income stopped coming. On top of all this, she lost her home when the airport expanded.
Laila is working hard to make it through this crisis and has support from an Action Against Hunger and USAID Cash for Work program. With the funds she earned through the project, she bought a small house and two chickens that are laying eggs, helping her to feed her children.
Democratic Republic of Congo
As cases of COVID-19 increased around the world, so too did hunger and malnutrition. Some experts estimate that the pandemic and its secondary impacts could cause an additional 10,000 children to die of malnutrition every month.
We at Action Against Hunger believe that this grim prediction is not inevitable. That’s why - by partnering with parents, implementing a community-based approach, and advocating for greater investment in nutrition programs - we continue to do everything we can to save lives. Above, Olivine, who recently recovered from malnutrition after being treated by our teams, smiles with her big sister Alice.
The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were often unexpected. In July, when annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was canceled for overseas travelers, the economic shockwaves hit camel farmers in rural Somalia.
During a typical Hajj, Saudi Arabia imports more than one million cows, camels, sheep, goats and other livestock to feed more than two million Islamic pilgrims. COVID-19 put the Hajj on hold for many, and Somalia’s livestock exports declined by as much as 50%.
"In a normal year, this would be a good month for local households, when they could meet their own food needs and pay back debts accrued in the dry season,” said Ahmed Khalif, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Somalia in July. “So many lives are going to be ruined or lost because of the Hajj cancellation. These traders will have no way to feed their families. There is talk of empty pockets in all of the livestock centers.”
To help bridge the gap, Action Against Hunger supported 8,000 of the poorest families with cash transfers, ramped up programs like cash-for-work projects to give young people productive sources of income, and expanded our nutrition programs.
On August 4, 2020, Beirut was rocked by explosions that destroyed the city’s port, damaged hospitals, homes, and other buildings, and displaced thousands. Action Against Hunger’s teams leapt into action, helping to clear debris and assess the blast’s long-term impacts on food insecurity across Lebanon.
"The fatal accident at the port may have been the last straw for an economy already extremely hard hit by the multi-crisis affecting the country. We are extremely worried about an increase in malnutrition in the coming months,” said our head of advocacy, Aurélie du Chatelet in August.
“There is no doubt that the resilience and solidarity of the Lebanese people has shone again in this crisis, but the truth is: we are facing an exhausted population in one of the most complicated years since the civil war,” she continued. “The explosion has destroyed not only homes and infrastructure, but the businesses and livelihoods of thousands of Lebanese, a traditionally enterprising people, who find themselves – in an instant - without income to buy increasingly expensive food in the markets.”
Today, our teams continue to support struggling families across Lebanon by providing much-needed food security, nutrition, and water and sanitation services.
In South Sudan, the worst flooding in decades forced thousands from their homes in 2020. The floods, along with ongoing conflict and the economic impacts of COVID-19, have left an estimated 6.4 million people hungry. In some areas of the country, the worst kind of hunger crisis - famine - is likely occurring.
Despite immense challenges, the mothers we meet in South Sudan are determined to ensure that their children can survive and grow up strong. After the floods, they waded through deep and dangerous waters to bring their children to Action Against Hunger’s health and nutrition center for care.
“We make a sacrifice to bring our children to safety,” says Nyalong Wal, 36, as she carried her two-year-old daughter to dry land.
In Pakistan, our teams are helping to prevent hunger through a variety of activities, including supporting home vegetable gardens, introducing climate-resilient crops, helping families raise and manage livestock such as goats and chickens, and teaching people how to farm fish.
We also host Farmer Field Schools -- pictured above -- where a “learn by doing” approach is used to teach women farmers new skills and techniques. On demonstration plots, agricultural students can try out new growing methods with local facilitators, who provide training and seeds.
“In [Sindh] region, more than half of the families live below the poverty line, struggle to get enough food, and cannot afford to buy a variety of foods,” says Rao Ayub Khan, Agricultural Technical Manager for Action Against Hunger in Pakistan. “We have mobilized our teams to promote home vegetable gardens to guarantee that diverse, good quality food is available within households. Sustainable cultivation methods increase availability of food, which makes it more accessible.”
Extreme weather events - which have increased in frequency and severity in recent years - hit Central America hard in 2020. In just two weeks, two Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.
The storms took lives, destroyed homes, and displaced families. Action Against Hunger teams worked around the clock to meet water, sanitation, and hygiene needs, as well as to provide COVID-19 protective gear to those affected by the storm.
Even in a chaotic, devastating year like 2020, our teams continued to do what they do best: work with mothers and children to fight hunger, treat malnutrition, and save lives.
When her youngest son, Mohamed, fell sick with malnutrition, Hafsa turned to Action Against Hunger. She brought him to one of our health centers in Mogadishu, where he was treated and released to continue recovery at home.
“I am so happy to see him smile and be happy again. I didn’t think that he would recover this fast considering how bad his swelling was. I am so grateful to see him walk around the center playing with other children,” said Hafsa.
“I am grateful to all those who were involved with his process of recovery. For the constant support and encouragement I received from the doctors, nurses and community health workers...I am happy that my child is happy and healthy, and I will make sure to do the best I can to continue keeping him healthy.”