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Reframing priorities Print E-mail
By Bill Webb   
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Many of us have been keenly aware of plummeting markets overseas and in the United States over the past few days. Back-to-back 500- and 600-point drops in the Dow Industrials have a lot of people fretting.

Anticipating retirement in a few years, I have watched the markets closely and joked wryly about my declining retirement fund balance. Some of my hopes for retirement are in danger of being scaled back. I'm not alone.

I've checked the real-time Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 performances more than once today, and the numbers are bleeding red. I can't imagine how this might affect my daily life in five years, when I begin tapping retirement funds.

But the financial markets are not the only story in the news today.

A drama of massive proportions continues to develop in Somalia. I've just left an international news website with explicit photographs of emaciated preschool children who are finally getting medical care and access to food. But the story says they might have arrived too late.

The children have been starving to death for days already. I read a story of a 6-year-old whose father carried him for 10 days under the African sun so that he might be saved. According to the story, this boy is half what his weight would be if he were healthy. Even with treatment, there is no guarantee that Ahmed will survive.

A visitor describes what he sees in the treatment facility:

"There is no way to dignify the description of death by starvation. It is neither quick nor painless. Not too long after the food is cut off, the body resorts to fuel reserves in the liver and fatty tissues. Once the fat is all gone, and the person is a skeleton of what he or she once was, the body searches for protein, and finds it in muscle tissue.

"Even the muscle of the heart is consumed, leaving someone drained and listless. The body shuts down. The pulse, the blood pressure and body temperature all precipitously drop. Little kids such as Ahmed completely stop growing and become stunted in time."

In Somalia alone, the numbers are staggering, according to UNICEF.

"Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost already in Somalia and neighboring countries; many more are threatened," according to the humanitarian organization's website. "In all, more than 11 million people desperately need help in the nations of eastern Africa stricken by drought, conflict and rising food prices.

"Among the most urgent needs in the crisis response are therapeutic food for malnourished children, safe water for tankering into drought-stricken areas, bed nets to prevent malaria and family kits for people on the move -- like the thousands of refugees who are crossing into Kenya from Somalia. Safe havens and learning spaces for children are priorities, as well."

A dying child or the famished parent cradling that child certainly are not lamenting what is happening in the financial markets of the world. Far from anticipating retirement, they worry they may not survive to the next day. This part of the world is praying that much-needed help will arrive in time to save a nation.

Compared to the plight of Somali children and adults, market volatility is little more than a headache.

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