Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Famine in Somalia

BBC: Somalia Famine: U.N. Warns of 750,000 Deaths
Economist: Chronicle of a Famine Foretold
Economist: Famine and Fighting
FT: Somali Militants Reject Famine Claim
FT: Somalia Famine Puts Spotlight on Country's Misrule
FT: U.N. Declares Famine in Rebel-Held Somalia
NYT: Somalia
NYT: U.N. Officials Say Famine is Widening in Somalia

For the last several months, Somalia has been suffering from an extreme famine. The United Nations (UN) issued a statement last week stating that the famine has spread to a sixth region. The UN has warned that the famine could spread to put 750,000 lives at risk. Tens of thousands of Somalis have died in the last two months as the famine has spread due to a continuing drought. The UN declares famine in a region when thirty percent of children in the region are malnourished, twenty percent of the population is without food, and two of every ten thousand adults, or four of every ten thousand children, die each day.

Experts say that the drought plaguing Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia is not the only cause of the famine, though it has played a large role as Somalia’s agricultural production has fallen by seventy-five percent. The central government collapsed in 1991, and no effective government has come to power since. This political upheaval has contributed to many economic crises, including the current famine. In addition, the lack of a centralized police power has led many farmers to abandon their trade as thieves increasingly take crops before the farmers can sell them for a profit. Foreign producers are also wary of sending goods to Somalia as the fear of having pirates seize a shipment has made doing business with Somalia too risky for many to handle.

Another side effect of Somalia’s lack of a central government—and major contributor to the famine—has been that al-Shabaab (a militant Islamic group with connections to al-Qaeda that the U.S. government characterizes as a terrorist organization) has taken-over Southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab has banned most foreign organizations from providing aid in the territories it controls. The group claims that the UN and United States are exaggerating the extent of the famine as propaganda to turn Somalis against the Islamic government. Even without the ban, many aid-giving countries are hesitant to send supplies for fear that al-Shabaab would use them for its own purposes, perhaps even to commit terrorist acts.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also hesitant to send personnel to Somalia. Al-Shabaab has been responsible for several kidnappings and deaths of NGO workers. A group of aid organizations that is still dedicated to helping Somalis have stated that it needs $300 million to be able to provide any significant relief. Because it does not appear likely that $300 million dollars will flow into Somalia any time soon, the Somali people may be left to die. Only time will tell if either nature or human politics will change in time to prevent more unnecessary deaths.

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