Politics trumps virtually every other kind of news until a natural disaster breaks through. For those of us watching the daily reports of protests in the Middle East and North Africa, it is easy to be absorbed by the sheer amount of coverage and websites available. This morning I noticed two “front page” stories that stopped me in my tracks, one in the New York Times and the other a special report on the website of al Jazeera. Freedom from dictatorial rule is a dream shared across a spectrum of people, and not only in this part of the world, but there is no ultimate freedom from Nature.

Drought is as much a killer as any ruthless dictator, which is not to diminish the negative impact of even the worst of the lot. But Saddam met his fate, as will Qaddafi. With all our technological savy, however, Nature still calls the shots, whether it is a tsunami, hurricane or prolonged drought. There is a cruel irony that some places have far too much water, especially at the wrong time, and others have no water all. No place is more miserable both politically and from drought than Somalia, a land that has been racked with civil war creating one of the worst humanitarian crises around (and there are quite a few). The camp of Daabab just across the Kenyan border already has hundreds of thousands fleeing the turmoil in Somalia. The UN estimates that 10 million people in the Horn of Africa are suffering directly from this crisis. Picture what this number means. If these people were lined up so that each one took only one foot of space the line would stretch over 630 miles. This means that if a bread line started in Boston and stretched south to Washington, D.C. it would still have almost two hundred more miles to go before it would end. A car driving the distance would take at least ten hours. And this is just for the crisis in the Horn.

What if the money spent on military weapons per year were actually spent on food aid and development assistance to people who are in danger of dying? The drones sent to destroy suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan (and now in Yemen) cost about 4.5 million each. The U.S. just gave Kenya an extra 5 million dollars in aid to help cope with the influx of refugees, about one drone’s worth. As Mark Twain said in a speech in 1881, war is “a wanton waste of projectiles.”

Daniel Martin Varisco