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Somalia, starvation and immorality

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A displaced Somali refugee cradles her severely emaciated child at the Dadaab Refugee camp in eastern Kenya (AFP/File, Tony Karumba)

A displaced Somali refugee cradles her severely emaciated child at the Dadaab Refugee camp in eastern Kenya (AFP/File, Tony Karumba)

In the last couple of days the starvation deaths in the horn of Africa (Somalia and parts of Kenya and Ethiopia) have risen to the awareness of world leaders and caught the attention of the world media. AFP reports the sense of outrage felt by some aid officials at this delayed awakening:

As head of emergency operations in Africa for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), [Cristina] Amaral has been warning about the crisis facing the drought-stricken region since November, after the rainy season failed.

Now she says it’s not enough for donor countries to stump up some cash for immediate food aid — there needs to be long-term investment to help farmers resist droughts and international mediation to bring peace to war-torn Somalia.

“When we have a declaration of famine in the 21st century, we should consider this immoral,” Amaral told AFP in an interview as she prepared for emergency talks at FAO in Rome on Monday aimed at coordinating the aid effort.

This is an example of human misery caused by politics. Western governments blame the problem on the Somalian organization called Al Shabab, which is claimed to be affiliated to Al Qaeda. Al Shabab forbids some of the larger agencies from operating in the areas controlled by it. Here is a report from the ground, via BBC:

Horn of Africa

I found him stretched out in the feeble shade of a dead tree surrounded by his three wives, and perhaps 20 children and neighbours.

The weary, hungry group arrived here, close to the border with Ethiopia, late last night after a relatively quick, four-day, 250-km journey, by foot, car and donkey cart, from the central Somali town of Diinsoor.

“No one died on the way,” said Mohammed, a wiry 55-year-old.

“We lost all our livestock to the drought, and we had lots of problems from al-Shabab. They are killing people, and taking food from them. They are enemies of our people and of the whole world. They are preventing aid from reaching our area. That’s why we had to flee here.

The group is waiting – alongside a much larger crowd – to be registered by aid workers from the nearby town, and given food. Dolow is in one of several small pockets of territory controlled by Somalia’s embattled, western-backed government. By local standards, it is a relatively safe area – and as such a magnet for tens of thousands of families fleeing the famine.

But few people stay in Dolow. Instead they head across the border into the refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia. Mohammed says he intends to follow the crowds.

The article continues:

There are dozens of experienced local aid organisations already working throughout Somalia – a fact that often gets lost in the furore over al-Shabab’s hostile attitude towards some of the bigger international organisations, like WFP [World Food Program].

The plan now is to try to use some of these local groups to funnel the vast sums of foreign aid money finally being promised into Somalia, taking the pressure off the swelling camps outside.

In areas like Dolow that may prove to be relatively straightforward, but the real struggle is to push aid – in the vast quantities now required – into regions controlled by al-Shabab.

“It’s a dangerous environment… and time is not on our side,” the EU commissioner [Cristalina Georgieva] concedes. “There are strongholds of al-Shabab where it is not possible today to reach out and help people.

“But it is categorically not true [that all al-Shabab areas are off limits]. We have learnt that in many villages nominally under al-Shabab control, local chiefs are asking for help and allowing humanitarian workers – mostly from organisations they already know – to come in and help.”

ET reported:

The World Bank on Monday pledged more than $500 million (348 million euros) to aid the drought-stricken Horn of Africa region, as United Nations aid chiefs met in Rome to discuss ramping up relief efforts.

The bulk of the money will go towards long-term projects to aid livestock farmers while $12 million will be for immediate assistance to those worst hit by the crisis and facing starvation, the World Bank said in a statement.

“The recurring nature of drought… calls not only for immediate relief from the current situation but also for building long term drought resilience,” Obiagelii Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for Africa, was quoted as saying.

“Agriculture is more vulnerable to climate change than any other sector. We need a major international effort to address this challenge now,” he said.

The World Bank said in April that rising food prices have pushed 44 million people into poverty since June 2010.

It has called for action to support small holder farmers with seeds, fertiliser, better weather forecasting and improved access to markets.

This is another arena where international politics has stunted ameliorative efforts. One example is the repeated failure to reach a global agreement on trade in agricultural products.

The UN estimates that USD 1.6 billion will be needed in the horn of Africa. What is the problem in raising this amount? You can identify it in the middle of a report from the Guardian:

Save the Children said if world leaders at the emergency meeting fail to plug a $1bn (£613m) funding gap for the east Africa aid effort, more than a million children could die in Somalia alone.

Save the Children pointed out that, despite organising the meeting, the French government has donated just £1.6m to the aid effort, lagging far behind the UK government’s recent £52m donation. Italy – the host of today’s summit and Europe’s fourth largest economy – has contributed only £550,000. Norway told the FAO meeting that it was ready to contribute more money to the relief effort, while the EU has increased its funding to euros 100m. It hopes to increase this further to euros 160m.

In a pointed intervention, Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the UN on the millennium development goals, said the world needed to turn to the Gulf states if it was serious about raising money quickly.

The same international politics again!

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 26, 2011 at 4:49 am

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