Wednesday, July 20, 2011

'Triangle Of Death' In Horn Of Africa



Waiting for food in the Dadaab camp, located in Kenya near the Somali border. Refugees wait patiently at Dagahaley registration center to receive cooking tools and their first food rations.
Source: The Guardian. Picture taken by Matilde Gattoni


Somalia - a failing state suffering from an internal conflict and from the worst drought in half a century - is in crisis. Humanitarian organizations and aid agencies have asked the international community to intervene and offer humanitarian assistance to the victims of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

According to the United Nations, the Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The drought, internal conflicts and the failure of the governments to fund agriculture and irrigation projects have led to the threat of starvation of more than 10 million of people [1]. In Somalia one of three children is suffering from malnutrition. At least 500,000 children from the Horn of Africa are severely malnourished and at risk of death [2].

The United Nations have officially declared two parts of Somalia, the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, to be in famine. Mark Bowden, head of the UN operation in Somalia, warned that: “If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.[…] Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas” [3]. U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that nearly 3.7 million people are now in crisis and in order to stop the crisis from deteriorating, “We need donor support to address current needs” [4]. As a result of severe food shortages, failed harvest, rising food prices and conflict in the region, at least 10 million people in the Horn of Africa will be in need of humanitarian assistance, estimates the UN [5].

According to Oxfam, famine has a couple of causes: A "triple failure of food production, people's ability to access food and, finally and most crucially, in the political response by governments and international donors. Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation -- but famine only occurs with political failure."[6]

The political failures which caused the famine do not just concern the failures made by the Eastern African governments but also concern the lack of interest and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation at hand among “rich”, Western governments on the northern hemisphere. Oxfam: "Several rich governments are guilty of willful neglect as the aid effort to avert catastrophe in East Africa limps along due to an $800 million shortfall," [7].

The internal conflict in Somalia has a negative and possible disastrous influence on the famine and on the assistance aimed at diminishing the humanitarian catastrophe. The humanitarian agencies have not been able to reach famine-affected areas because the Al-Qaeda linked militant Islamic group, Al-Shabaab, refuses to give access to the areas which are dominated by Al-Shabaab. According to Susan Rice, USA ambassador to the UN , "Al-Shabaab is principally responsible for exacerbating the consequences of the drought situation by preventing its own people from being able to access critically needed assistance". Whereas at the beginning of July, 2011, the Al-Shabaab pledged to allow aid groups access to areas under its control, the militants now refuse to help the aid workers. The Islamic militants have accused the Western humanitarians of being anti-Muslim. The Al-Shabaab fears that foreign assistance will undermine its power in the areas under its control. The disaster has a negative influence on the militant group as well. They fear that the famine drives away the people upon which they depend for tax revenues and military conscription [8].

In the past, the militants have blocked aid workers from helping those in need in Somalia, fearing that foreign assistance would undermine their control.

On the morning of Thursday 28 July, the Somali government took the fight against the Al-Qaeda linked militants. 15 members of the Al-Shahaab group were killed during this offensive. According to David Orr from the United Nations World Food Program, the offensive has not had a hindered the United Nations efforts to help the famine stricken people in Eastern Africa [9].

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