A message from the Chief Executive of Save the Children: Justin Forsyth:
“Two years ago, in the midst of the worst drought to hit Kenya in decades, I met a little girl called Umi. She was very ill: malnourished, dehydrated, and close to death. She had been spotted by one of our mobile health clinics and rushed to hospital. The struggle of this tiny, frail baby, just three months old and clinging to life by a thread, moved me to tears.
In the most dramatic humanitarian crises, sometimes a single story tells us everything we need to know. Umi’s was one of those stories. Pictures of her as she fought to survive were beamed around the world and prompted an outpouring of generosity that raised millions of pounds and saved thousands of lives.
The BBC sent a crew to her village to interview her parents. Andrew Mitchell, then the international development secretary, visited her with me in a small hospital. As the scale of the crisis became apparent, the story of her survival took on a deeper significance, a prick of hope amid the despair.
A symbol of recovery
As East Africa began its slow recovery, she began her own, putting on weight and gaining strength with every passing day. By Christmas 2011, pictures of her transformation appeared on the front of newspapers. The BBC ran a follow-up story on her recovery. Having been the embodiment of the crisis at its worst, as the situation improved, little Umi, still less than a year old, became a symbol of regional recovery and the wider progress being made to reduce child deaths in the world.
On Tuesday this week, Umi’s story ended. She died in hospital from pneumonia and diarrhoea – the two biggest killers of children in the world. In the end, after all she had been through, she was not the victim of a humanitarian disaster. The crops in her village had not failed and the herd of goats owned by her father had not starved, wiping out his income. Umi died because she’d been weakened by that initial bout of hunger, and because she lived miles from nearest hospital. She arrived there too late. She died because her family were poor.”