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The F-word: Why we did it

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SOMALIA FAMINE
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ONE's new campaign ad is getting a lot of attention. Not all of it of the admiring kind. Yahoo's news pages brand it the "shocking F-word vid". In the UK, the folk who decide what is fit and proper content for TV ads are stewing over it. A decision is expected shortly (watch this space). Critics say we're just trying to shock.

There's an irony here. A few weeks ago I was watching a news report on the spreading famine in Somalia. Families were walking seventy or eighty miles to cross the border to the relative safety of the Dadaab camp in Kenya. Some mothers arrived speaking of the horrific choice they'd had to make: which of their children to leave behind? Knowing that not all would make it, they'd had to make the most appalling decision. The weakest children left to die on the side of the long road to Dadaab.

If this does not shock us, we are beyond shock. We are unshockable.

A day or two after seeing that report, and after hearing from former colleagues in Save the Children and Oxfam that it really was as bad as this, we were talking in the ONE office about what we could do. The thought emerged: isn't 'Famine' the real F-word? We all understand famine as a biblical notion, like plague and pestilence. We all get it as a historical abhorrence, like slavery and apartheid. But famine in the present tense? Famine in the 21st century? Isn't that just obscene?

And so the idea was born. It wasn't a hard sell to get people to help us. The acclaimed director Jesse Dylan came on board. A cast of characters, many of whom have a first-hand understanding of Africa, like K'Naan, Annie Lennox, George Clooney and Bono, offered to help. Our brilliant ONE creative team, led by Roxane Philson and Jeff Davidoff, pulled it all together at lightning speed. And now you see it. The results of our efforts.

It isn't meant to shock. We hope it makes people stop and think. Think about the fact that this situation is not some act of God or nature. Drought may be inevitable but famine is not. I was in the remote highlands of Ethiopia not long ago - the kind of place that you might expect to struggle most. But not now. With long-term investments in agriculture, early warning systems, food reserves, irrigation and more, those rural communities are getting by. It's fragile, for sure. But they are weathering this storm.

The same is true across the region. Much of Africa - even where the food system is under serious stress - is managing to sidestep the worst of this crisis. Most of Africa is hungry no more. Parents are seeing their children grow up hungry no more. One child, one family, one village at a time. Hungry No More.

And yet, as today's latest UN situation report is expected to confirm, 750,000 people are threatened with death in the next six months. These are the people who couldn't step to the side. They are caught in the full force of a silent storm. Many of those lives can still be saved, if the world acts urgently and boldly. And beyond this crisis, let's determine now that we will never let this happen again. Nobody's saying it's easy. But it can be done.

Children left to die on the side of the road. F*****. Let's stop it.

See the ad and sign ONE's petition at www.one.org