Famine in Somalia

The horrendous images of starving multitudes, especially children in crisis-hit Somalia, have deluged the media since many days.

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Published: Thu 21 Jul 2011, 9:59 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:54 PM

Despite frantic efforts by international aid agencies to procure food for the thousands pouring in to relief camps daily, the situation is deteriorating rapidly. The United Nations has thus declared famine in two of Somalia’s worst hit areas of Lower Shabelle and Bakool in the South, a condition the country faced almost two decades back.

According to the UN, almost 3.7 million people that comprise half the Somalian population are in danger, of which an estimated 2.8 million are in the South. The problem facing the UN and other agencies is the inaccessibility of many areas because of the ongoing security situation with Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group Al Shabab. Though limited access to some areas was recently allowed, the situation remains tense and uncertain. The aid personnel face a high risk of being targeted by the group. Previously, in 2009, Al Shabab banned all foreign agencies from its territories. The aid agencies in the current circumstances face a bigger challenge of getting immediate aid and resources across in the shortest possible time. The continuing drought and outbreak of infectious disease is a constant worry and is expected to escalate over the next two months unless significant resources and aid is not provided to many areas currently out of reach. The UN has estimated the need of at least $300 million to address the famine over the next 60 days. While this figure may not be astronomical given the extent of the famine and hunger crisis that has gripped East Africa, the problem is on how to procure the funds and resources in enough time to reverse the tide.

The response made so far by many European and developed states reflects a shocking apathy and callousness. In the words of the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, the response of the West has been “derisory and dangerously inadequate”. While preoccupations with the widening European economic crisis, the US debt crisis and military engagement in Libya are understandable, do these justify the way the African drought crisis is being dealt with by those states that have the resources and funds to create enough of an impact to stall the crisis? Every individual state’s diverting of even miniscule amounts to the net total estimated by the UN can easily help. Pledges and promises may sound impressive but the time to act is now. Unless the world body acts immediately, it may be too late.

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