Examining the World’s Response to the Somalia Famine

Somalia is beset by a bevy of problems; from an Islamist insurgency that holds great swathes of the south, to the de facto independent regions of Somaliland and Puntland in the north, to the pirates operating off the coast, to the barely functional government in Mogadishu that controls only sections of the capital through the backing of an African Union peacekeeping force, to the recent famine that devastated the south of the country.

The famine, which ended formally ended only earlier this month, is the focus of an interactive piece by the Guardian. It examines how the tragedy unfolded, especially when early indicators pointed to the likelihood of a famine. Through a timeline, the piece marks out what happened when—probably important as not all readers may be familiar with the details of the disaster—atop a chart that visualises the aid given to Somalia. Other line charts describe who donated and when.

Timeline of the story and how that compares to donations
Timeline of the story and how that compares to donations

The most interesting, however, is an investigation into what (perhaps) spurred the donations. Using the same timeline as a common base, it charts when donations were made against mentions in six US and UK media outlets against Twitter mentions and Google Search Insights.

Donations overlap with media mentions
Donations overlap with media mentions

With this last bit in particular, the Guardian has attempted to use data visualisation to support an argument made in accompanying text. Often times data visualisation and infographics will simply document an event or provide facts and figures. Here, however, an attempt was made to link the aid effort to media coverage (90% of aid came to Somalia after the story broke in the media), perhaps to show causation. But, the writer admits that ultimately the visualisation can only show the overlap or correlation, which the writer further notes is itself consistent with academic debate over the existence of the “CNN effect”.

Credit for the piece goes to Claire Provost, Irene Ros, Nicola Hughes, and the Guardian Interactive Team.

Author: Brendan Barry

I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? I am the data visualisation manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (This blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of the Fed, blah blah blah legal stuff.) And with my main interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I enjoy cooking and reading and am interested in various subjects from history and geography to politics to science to the arts. And I allow all of them to influence my work.

Leave a Reply