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What Hunger Looks Like|
War photographer Marcus Bleasdale visits Djibouti – where poverty, not conflict, divides the country – and documents eerily familiar scenes of deprivation and malnutrition.
Marcus Bleasdale, a distinguished war photographer, has documented the scars of conflict in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kashmir, and Nepal -- places where years or decades of war have left local populations taking shelter in bombed-out buildings or makeshift dwellings, with little food or safe water. What he found when he visited Djibouti, a small, little-known country on the Horn of Africa, felt eerily familiar. Only this time, the deprivation was not the result of war, but of poverty; as Bleasdale says: "The conditions make it almost feel like a conflict zone."
Djibouti is a transient place; it is used as a base for military operations elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East by Britain, France, Spain, and the United States. The capital city, also named Djibouti, draws impoverished villagers from the surrounding countryside who come looking for work and mostly don't find it, as well as refugees from nearby countries, especially Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the Congo.
Djibouti's poor take refuge in slums on the city's outskirts, constructing shelters from corrugated iron and other scrap material. The government refuses to install water facilities in the slums, thinking the minimal amenities will discourage people from settling there; it hasn't.
Owing to the poor quality of farmland, most food in Djibouti is imported, at high cost. Supermarkets that cater to middle-class expats are well stocked. But these provisions are too expensive for slum dwellers. "The contrast struck me," says Bleasdale, "a huge amount of urban poverty mixed up alongside middle-class housing estates."
Not long ago, Bleasdale visited a Médecins Sans Frontières therapeutic feeding clinic on the outskirts of Djibouti city. It opened in 2009 and includes one emergency feeding ward, for the most severe cases of malnutrition, and two secondary wards.
A child sits inside the clinic's emergency ward, wearing a gastric-natal feeding tube. The dozen beds in this ward are always full.
A child's measurements are recorded on an arm bracelet. Each child in the clinic wears one, its color recording growth and progress: green, orange, or red bracelets for the most severe cases.
Being weighed for the first time is often a terrifying process.
A time sheet records the daily routine. Children are woken up to be fed every three hours.
Many of the mothers stay with their children in the clinic and are responsible for the feeding. "Our stereotypical image of poverty and malnutrition is a skinny child alone on the prairie," says Bleasdale, "but including the mothers is essential."
This child is strong enough to receive food through the mouth.
A child is asleep on a bed, covered in a lace cloth to keep flies off.
"Poverty is a lot more enduring than war or famine," says Bleasdale. "It's not as simple to see a clear end in sight."