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The meal from hell


I have huge admiration for Anthony Loyd as a journalist, not least for his passionate and disturbing reports on Syria. Here he writes about another time in his career, when he was covering the famine in Ethiopia. It tackles the fraught question of whether or not journalists should intervene to reduce the pain they are witnessing. One of the most haunting pieces of journalism I've read.

'The limits of altruism are shrouded when it comes to journalists, war and humanitarian crises. You cannot help everyone. I learnt the limits the hard way in southern Ethiopia during a famine 15 years ago. One night, in the arid desert, I ate pasta with a group of local aid workers in an open tent in the middle of a food distribution centre. There was no cover to hide behind. Illuminated by storm lights like actors on a stage as we ate, outside the wire thousands of starving people pressed against the fence staring at our every mouthful, close enough for me to notice the way their eyes glittered.

"Try not to think about it," one of the aid workers murmured to me. "And whatever you do don't insult them by leaving your food."

Every few minutes from the darkness beyond the throng ululations of grief rang out as another mother's starving child died. I struggle to think of a more wretched meal.'


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