Saturday, September 3, 2011

Famine in Somalia: a man-made crisis

A comment by Unni Karunakara in the Guardian (UK): The emergency unfolding in and around Somalia is being portrayed by many aid organisations and the media in one-dimensional terms, such as "famine in the Horn of Africa" or "worst drought in 60 years". But only blaming natural causes ignores the complex geopolitical realities exacerbating the situation and suggests that the solution lies in merely finding funds and shipping enough food. Glossing over the man-made causes of hunger and starvation in the region and the difficulties in addressing them will not help resolve the crisis.

I have just returned from Kenya and Somalia and what I and my Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) colleagues are seeing indicates a profoundly distressing situation. In Mogadishu, I met a young woman from the southern region of Lower Shebelle who is now living in one of the many makeshift camps appearing all over the city. She left home with her husband and seven children because of a bad harvest and her inability to afford food and water. Somewhere along her trek, she had to leave her husband and three children behind, as they were too weak to complete the five-day walk.

Her story echoes those of thousands of other families in southern and central Somalia who have been ravaged by conflict for years and were tipped over the edge by drought. Malnutrition is chronic in many parts of the Horn of Africa and there needs to be a long-term international effort to ensure nutritious foods reach the people who need them. Today, however, the most urgent needs are concentrated in southern and central Somalia. Even if we do not have a full picture, we know the situation is dire from the large numbers of Somalis arriving in weak condition in the capital, Mogadishu, and at camps across the border in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The failed harvests exacerbated what was already a catastrophe. Somalia is the theatre for a brutal war between the transitional government, backed by western nations and supported by African Union troops, and armed opposition groups, most notably al-Shabaab. It is this war, combined with the internecine rivalries of the various Somali clans, that has kept independent international assistance away from many communities. The Somali people are trapped between various forces trying to weaken their opponents. There is virtually no access to healthcare in vast tracts of land across the country....

A malnourished child in an Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) treatment tent in the Dolo Ado camp, near Ethiopia's border with Somalia. Shot by Cate Turton/Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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