Monday, February 15, 2010

While Somali warlords fight, people go hungry


AllAfrica.Com Somalia: Al-Shabaab Declares Jihad On Kenya

AllAfrica.Com Somalia: Humanitarian Crisis Persists with Malnutrition Rampant in Young, UN Warns

AllAfrica.Com Somalia: Al-Shabaab had Burnt Bakara Market, Minister Says

AllAfrica.Com Kenya: Neighbors' Polls Raise Fears of Influx of Refugees

Wikipedia Somalia

AFP Somali Pirates: the unlikely heroes of Kenya's Fishermen

The depressing reality of modern media is that bold statements and guns grab headlines and attention, while more human stories are cast aside. For at least the last fifteen years, Somalia has been a steady stream of violence-laden stories as one rival warlord takes on another, or as pseudo-commercial pirates take to the high seas. However, these stories mask a more important reality on the ground. The vast majorities of those who have ridden out the civil war and lawlessness have been subsisting on almost nothing and every day are closer to losing what little they have.

The story of Somalia is a sad one, and an account of each twist and turn in the last fifty years fills books. It is easy to forget that against the backdrop of startling poverty today, the country was once a center of commerce—the Dubai of the ancient world. During the 1960’s, former European colonies gained independence and joined together to form what is now known as Somalia. A series of military-led governments persisted until overthrown by armed revolutionaries in December of 1990. As a result of fighting, famine broke out and 300,000 died in 1992, leading to a United Nations intervention and a humanitarian operation led by the United States. While initially successful, the UN mission never secured a lasting peace and was ended in 1995. The next fifteen years have seen constant fighting between warlords, and a glimmer of hope has only recently been seen. The most recent fighting has been between the Islamic Court Union (ICU) and the Transitional Government. This has subsided somewhat, but each side blames the other for the fighting and conflict still exists. Most recently, the Islamic Al-Shabaab rebels that grew out of the ICU have declared a jihad on Kenya for reportedly training troops to prop up the Transitional Government.

The number of those suffering from this protracted conflict is shocking. The United Nations estimates that 3.2 million people need emergency support or livelihood assistance. This means that 42% of the population requires help. The UN also estimates that 1 in 6 children are suffering “acute malnourishment.” Of these 240,000 children, it estimates 63,000 are “severely malnourished .” Children who are severely malnourished are nine times more likely to die than a well-nourished child. The only encouraging news is that a bumper crop in the south has increased food availability and has already slightly reduced the amount needing aid.

A sign of the continuous poverty is the rise of piracy off the African coast. Foreign navies have been called in to patrol the waters near Somalia. One unnamed pirate says that he used to make less than 200$ per month, but that his life of crime has solved his poverty woes. But, not everyone in the international community is upset with this criminal activity. Kenyan fishermen claim the pirates have kept foreign fishing vessels away and increased their yields. Poverty never justifies even a petty crime, let alone one with international ramifications, but it must be seen as a root cause of traditional fishermen turning to a more lucrative trade.

Neighboring states have become unintentional havens for refugees fleeing the decades-long conflict in Somalia. It is estimated that currently 5,000 are entering into Kenya daily. The UN estimates that 400,000 people have taken shelter there. While this number might be absorbed quickly at first, the sustained strain has taken its toll. Kenya’s new concern is that growing instability in several of its neighboring countries could push its resources to the brink.

Day-to-day, headline grabbing events often overshadow the history of how Somalia became the almost lawless state that it is today. These events also mask the still tremendous amount of hunger and poverty within Somalia. This poverty is not only a problem for citizens in the country. Its ripple effect impacts have led to more piracy and increased refugees crossing the border. It is as clear now as it has been for decades that peace must come to Somalia before the humanitarian situation will improve.


1) How can the international community work with Somalia to bring stability, if not peace, to their country?

2) Does the wider international community have any responsibility to help countries that accept refugees?

No comments: