Noma, The face of poverty

Linked on our blogs with Jean Ziegler – Switzerland. – Published on Online Journal, by Siv O’Neall, August 20, 2010.

(The following article is based on a report “The tragedy of Noma [1],” prepared by Mr. Jean Ziegler, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes in this article are excerpted from this report by Mr. Ziegler
See also NOMA on en.wikipedia):

Malnutrition and hunger are not only direct killers of children and adults all over the developing world. A lesser-known but horrible result of the negligence and callousness of the rich Western world is a cruelly disfiguring disease called noma (from Ancient Greek nomē “spreading of sores”), a scourge which is destroying lives in large parts of the developing nations. 

Until very recently, little has been done in the world in order to deal with this awful disease, partly because it was mostly hidden away, due to the cruelly disfiguring facial sores that it causes. [2] Impoverished parents, having children who were infected by noma, tended to hide their children away with their animals out of shame that they might bring dishonor on their families. It should be noted that noma is not even mentioned in a fact sheet on the top killer diseases in the developing world.

Nevertheless, for quite a few years now, private individuals as well as organizations have begun to deal with the victims of this horror. Treatment is possible at an early stage and surgery to restore destroyed faces is quite possible even at later stages. But the steps that have been taken so far are so few and far between that attention has to be drawn to the need for the World Health organization (WHO) to deal with it on a far larger scale.

The characteristics of noma: … //

… RECOMMENDATIONS for what can be done to alleviate the curse of noma

Noma is killing, disfiguring, and destroying the lives of children. The persistence of noma in today’s world raises doubts not only about our morality, but it also comes to prove that the right to food of the children, the most vulnerable members of the international community is being severely violated. Malnutrition is the main predisposing factor of noma; malnutrition is easily treatable. To respect, protect and fulfill the right to food concerning the most vulnerable groups affected or at risk of being affected by the noma disease, the following steps should be taken:

  • The fight against noma must be made a priority at international level. . . . In the view of the rise in malnutrition, all regions at risk must be included in the monitoring system.
  • Inter-agency cooperation on the issue of noma must take place. . . . Noma should become integral part of the international response given by organizations such as FAO, WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, etc. to the challenges posed by the food and economic crises.
  • States must put in place national programs against noma or strengthen existing frameworks. States should allocate sufficient funds for prevention and information activities, as well as for nutritious food aid to individuals facing malnutrition. In case of lack of funds and faced with emergency situations, States have a legal obligation to appeal for international humanitarian aid. Not making such an appeal would be an encroachment on the right to food. Other States have a responsibility to cooperate as it is clear from Articles 2 and 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and from customary international law.


The fact that this horrible disease is still continuing to wreak havoc in the developing world should be to the eternal shame of the wealthy countries — the other side of the coin where waste and luxury are the law of the land and overfeeding is the prevalent health problem.

A few organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are supposedly responsible for solving the ever-increasing and global problem of hunger. However, all they have done so far is to ever more enrich the rich countries and further strangle the poor countries that have been forced to humbly ask for loans to get out of their unacceptable living conditions. Instead of being enabled to give their people decent living conditions, these countries have been forced by the IMF to accept austerity measures, i.e. cutbacks in social spending and devaluation of their currencies, making the paying back of their loans even more hurtful and causing the living conditions of their citizens to deteriorate even further.

So, as the poverty-stricken nations are gasping for breath, lacking food and clean drinking water and being robbed by the Big Transnational Corporations, while the rich 2% of the world population are gathering up further obscene wealth, the drive to the destruction of a decent and ethical cohabitation in this world is speeding up by the day.

  • 1. HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, Advisory Committee, Third session, 3-7 August 2009, Item 3 (b) of the provisional agenda.
  • 2. For graphic illustration of disfigurement by noma go to ‘Facing Africa’ and ‘Project Harar Ethiopia.’
  • 3. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones promised each other to dedicate their achievement (completing a non-stop balloon flight around the globe in 1999) to the children of the world and to use the media exposure and fund-raising potential of their fame to combat forgotten or disregarded suffering.
  • 4. The World Health Organisation WHO estimates that 140,000 new cases of Noma occur each year and of these, a mere 10% survive. That means that 126,000 die each year, mainly in sub-Saharan countries from Senegal to Ethiopia, a region known as “the Noma belt.”
  • (Facing Africa – NOMA).

(full long text).

  • (See Jean Ziegler’s websites in french and in english.
  • Siv O’Neall is an Axis of Logic columnist, where this essay first appeared, and is based in France. Her insightful essays are republished and read worldwide. She can be reached by e-mail. ).

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