Misery persists in Horn of Africa

Saturday, October 15, 2011
By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS -- The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are stalking Somalia and riding further a field into the impoverished the Horn of Africa.

Drought, famine, militias and global indifference plague this parched region at the mercy of weather, failed states, and donor fatigue. Today over 13 million face a deteriorating food and security situation.

Significantly Somalia, long the epicenter of so many African crises, again has gained the tragic limelight as over four million people are affected by drought, famine and internal displacement. Moreover the Islamic Al-Shabab militias have carried out bombings killing 100 in the shattered capital Mogadishu; the group has equally hijacked humanitarian relief.


The militias have often banned Western food aid or tried to block its distribution.

After visiting Somalia, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the U.N. and the world community who remained helpless against the pressing problems of today the tragedy of Somalia, where tens of thousands of children died due to the lack of even a piece of bread and a drop of water, is a shame for the international community.

Today the international community is watching the suffering in Somalia like a movie, Erdogan stated bluntly, I will be frank. No one can speak of peace, justice and civilization in the world if the outcry rising from Somalia is left unheard.

Earlier Erdogan told a nervous General Assembly, I feel obliged to state very frankly that today the United Nations does not demonstrate the leadership necessary to help mankind prevail over its fears for the future.

According to the U.N. over 4 million people are affected by drought and famine in Somalia, while a quarter of the country's population is displaced by the crisis.

These are very difficult circumstances not seen in this region in more than a decade, said Elhadj Sy, a UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern Africa .

Describing the dire situation he related that the drought must be seen to the backdrop of ongoing deadly fighting in Somalia.

Thousands had been displaced or had gone into refugee camps across the border to seek safety and basic necessities.

He advised that Kenya's Dabab refugee camp, built to house just 80,000 people, now had a population of some 450,000.

That camp, near the Somali frontier, has become Kenya's third largest city.

The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) brings the situation into stark focus.

The crisis is primarily in the south of the country, including the capital Mogadishu, with 4 million people in need of food; approximately 1.4 million have benefited from food assistance.

Moreover 3.3 million are in need of water with approximately 1 million people receiving access to safe water.

The U.N. adds that 450,000 children suffer from malnutrition with 170,000 having been treated.

In the most recent US$2.4 billion aid appeal for the Horn of Africa countries, notably Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya ands Djibouti, just over 70 percent is so far funded.

This year the U.S. has provided approximately US$432 million in aid for the Horn of Africa but concerns persist that humanitarian deliveries can actually reach their destination given Al-Shabab tactics.

So how will a long-plagued region emerge from this recent crisis?

Ireland's Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore stated, Hunger will not stop when the drought ends.

Rather conflict and food prices will impose more poverty and hardship on the vulnerable. The Minister added that Ireland was providing over US$67 million to the Horn of Africa in 2011 and 2012, an impressive sum for a European country battered by the recession and debt.

But beyond the humanitarian tragedy, how does this recurring crisis impact on the West?

The Al-Shabab Islamic militias and al-Qaida affiliates thrive in such a murky security environment.

Extortion, hijackings of humanitarian supplies, and the recent bombing in the capital Mogadishu are the testaments to the continued strife. The Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu is teetering.

On the sea, Somalia-based pirates have emerged as a major industry which attacks offshore shipping deep into the Indian Ocean affecting most of the world's trading nations.

Equally large numbers of refugees and the fractious security situation in refugee camps, can lead to destabilization of nearby Kenya.

Without question this famine has become a crisis without borders and can easily pose a wider risk to East Africa and well beyond.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide; USA/Euroland Rift?” (University Press, 2010).

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