[Dehai-WN] Mondediplo.com: Between famine and al-shabab-Somalia's agony

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Sep 07 2011 - 17:48:02 EDT

Between famine and al-shabab-Somalia's agony

September 2011

Somalis, in growing numbers, are dying of famine after the severest of
droughts. They are also the casualties of the conflict between al-Shabab and
Somalia's transitional government

by Glen Johnson

The graves lay in a clearing beside a potholed road at the south end of
Mogadishu. Each was small, perhaps one metre long and covered by an oval
mound of red soil, water sprinkled on top to keep it in place. Some were
protected by scrub, brambles and small branches from acacia trees, sticking
out from the soil, and surrounded by small rocks. None were marked with

Nearby a child was flying a small kite, made from a red plastic bag and some
scraps of string tied together. The child's head was a scraggly mop of curls
as he walked down the street following the bag blown skyward in the breeze.
An old man, Ali, who watched over the makeshift cemetery, said there were
dozens of graves in the area, tucked away under acacias or in groups in
other clearings. Every day more appeared: "They are all children's graves.
Mostly children are dying here. There are more, but I do not know where they
are." He said the cause of the death was malnutrition or diarrhoea.

The deceased came from the makeshift Badbaado internally displaced persons
(IDP) camp just across the road - a sprawling yet cramped collection of huts
built from scraps of cloth and pieces of tarpaulin - which is home to 5,000
displaced families. Most of the people in the camp had fled from south and
central Somalia, trekking to Mogadishu in search of food and water, before
ending up in one of the dozens of camps in the capital. New arrivals can be
seen daily, walking slowly along Mogadishu's broken streets in groups, or
sitting in the rubble of skeletal buildings shattered by conflict.

Somalia is in the midst of a severe drought following the failure of the
Deyr (secondary) rains from October to December 2010, and the delayed and
below normal Gu (primary) rains from this April to June. Crops failed and
significant numbers of livestock were lost.

The famine spreads

According to the World Bank ( <http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb1>
1), food prices in Somalia have soared - with the staple cereal sorghum
increasing by 180% and maize by 107% on the previous year - while fuel costs
remain volatile as instability in the Middle East persists. Previous
economic mismanagement, a booming charcoal trade causing deforestation,
rapid growth and urbanisation, and political insecurity have all exacerbated
the crisis ( <http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb2> 2).

As a result, food insecurity is crippling the country: around 3.7 million
Somalis are in need of aid - and for 3.2 million of those it is a matter of
saving lives. Hundreds of thousands are displaced and the United Nations has
declared famine in five regions of the country, with famine expected to
spread to all of the south within the next two months. An estimated 29,000
children under the age of five have died.

Standing next to his makeshift home in Badbaado camp, Abdughadr, an animal
herder from the Lower Shabelle region, said he had packed up a few scant
belongings - a pot, some clothes - and walked for a week to reach Mogadishu,
with his wife, children and close relatives. They set up their tents, and
began waiting. But they do not know what for: "All the animals have died,
there are not any animals. People were dying. Nothing has grown for three
years." Abdughadr added: "Al-Shabab would not let us leave. They are
refusing to let anyone go. I said we were going to the next village for
food. Then we came to this place."

But Abdughadr has seen little improvement since arriving in Mogadishu.
Badbaado's six feeding centres are nearly out of supplies, with around five
days' worth of stocks remaining. A local NGO, Humanitarian Initiative Just
Relief Aid (HIJRA), has worked to build up sanitation infrastructure and dig
safe water wells in the camp, but substantial relief has yet to arrive. So
Abdughadr is faced with the decision of whether to look for another IDP camp
or to stay where he knows there is a clean water supply. As the
international aid effort slowly gathers momentum, you hear many similar
stories on the streets of Mogadishu; they are quickly picked up by
international media and beamed around the world.

An estimated $2.48bn is required to mitigate the immediate effects of the
crisis. But while food and medicine are desperately needed, Somalia largely
lacks the mechanisms to distribute aid, according to analysts. And there are
growing fears of unintended consequences associated with a massive influx of
aid. William Reno, an associate professor of political science at
Northwestern University (US), thinks that while outsiders cannot completely
withdraw from Somalia, they should play a minimal role: "Whenever the
international community becomes involved, there are all kinds of perverse
effects, particularly when you start injecting a large amount of money and
particularly when it's through diffuse groups of NGOs that shower money
through diffuse channels. That is an invitation for fragmentation."

The militias re-emerge

Reno, who has extensive experience throughout Africa, cited the example of
South Sudan as a cautionary tale: "In South Sudan, the SPLA [Sudan Peoples'
Liberation Army], which was a pretty standard, mid-century-type Leninist
rebel group, have run into really big problems since 2005 because they can't
control the flow of resources from foreigners anymore. And I think you can
see with the development of provincial militias - well, the re-emergence of
them - that NGOs play a role in this. Of course they don't intend this. But,
part of the resource extraction [by militia] is from NGOs and from
government aid."

In August The New York Times reported that humanitarian aid is being stolen
in Somalia ( <http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb3> 3). The World
Health Organisation's Pieter Desloovere, a communications officer based in
Nairobi, said that aid organisations faced numerous challenges in Somalia,
mostly regarding security, and that the aid community was "working to ensure
aid is going to where it is needed. Improving coordination and information
flows amongst agencies, as well as continuing to try to influence the
leadership of groups that are hostile to aid organisations are key elements
of the strategy to increase access. [Somali nationals] are at the forefront
of these efforts."

Aid relief efforts are further complicated by Somalia's security situation.
In the early hours of 6 August, the Islamist militia al-Shabab (Youth),
withdrew from large swathes of Mogadishu, following a sustained offensive by
the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM
troops. Strategic al-Shabab positions - Bakara market, the football stadium
and the ministry of defence - all fell to TFG-AMISOM forces and the
conflict's frontlines shifted. As of late August, al-Shabab appears to have
fractured into a number of different groups: a basic rift is emerging
between its (Somali) national and international factions (
<http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb4> 4), creating further
uncertainty about the overall security situation for aid agencies.

A drive through al-Shabab's former positions reveals the violence Mogadishu
has witnessed. Everything is shot and bombed to pieces. Trees stretch up
through buildings now covered in mould; weeds, cactus, shrubs and trees have
taken over the city. Roads are destroyed and people walk wearily over
potholed streets, always looking out for IEDs and landmines.

Al-Shabab emerged as a potent force following the ousting of the Union of
Islamic Courts (UIC), at the end of 2006 (
<http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb5> 5). The UIC had taken control
of Mogadishu in the middle of that year, bringing stability and security to
parts of Somalia racked by clan conflict, and gradually winning widespread
public support.

According to the Ethiopian analyst Medhane Tadesse, the UIC filled a vacuum
created by lawlessness while capitalising on 20 years of Islamisation in the
Horn of Africa. He writes: "The way in which the Union of Islamic Courts
consolidated its power was a genuine political process in which the Somali
business class entered into a pact with the political elite (in this case
the Islamists), forging the first political contract in southern Somalia. It
could therefore be argued that it was a locally owned, credible, legitimate
and substantial political process. However, there [were] actors who aimed at
developing the Courts as a vehicle for the creation of an Islamic Emirate,
encompassing large areas outside Somalia. Extremist elements ... hijacked
the Court's movement for political ends with disastrous effects" (
<http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb6> 6).

These flaws made the UIC unacceptable both to Ethiopia and the United
States. But Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt supported the movement for geopolitical
reasons. In late December 2006, acting essentially as a proxy for the US,
Ethiopia launched strikes against the movement and quickly overwhelmed it.

Al-Shabab, the UIC's youth wing - credited with more than 200 assassinations
by this stage and led by Sheikh Aden Hashi Ayro, who reportedly received
training in explosives and insurgency tactics in Afghanistan in the 1990s -
emerged as a potent force. The ensuing conflict between al-Shabab and the
TFG reflects the wider geopolitical game underway in the Horn of Africa. And
its consequences are keenly felt by ordinary Somalis.

'We have no hope'

Fatooma, 45, had just arrived in Mogadishu after travelling up from southern
Somalia. She sat at the western edge of Bakara market with her family and
explained that they have no money. They had used what they had to buy their
way onto a truck, travelling 400km in two days to reach Mogadishu. So her
husband and brothers had gone into the central business district of
Mogadishu to beg. "We have no hope. It was a tragedy. All the animals died.
The children are starving."

It is Somalia's children who are most at risk, as the graves at Badbaado
show. Upwards of 450,000 are malnourished - and 190,000 of these are
suffering severe malnutrition and at risk of starvation (
<http://mondediplo.com/2011/09/04somalia#nb7> 7). Acute diarrhoea is
widespread, with 75% of cases occurring among the under-fives. Unicef and
the WHO have warned of cholera outbreaks.

In Mogadishu's Banadir hospital, the entrance to the paediatric clinic was
filled with patients. According to Dr Luul Mohamed, head of the paediatric
department, the mortality rate among children is now 10%. She said they hope
to reduce it to 5%.

A corridor was crammed with around 50 women and children. Mothers sat on the
floor clutching children connected to drips. One child was vomiting white
liquid. His eyes swirled as it dribbled down his chin as. Flies buzzed
incessantly. A rail-thin woman called Amira, dressed in a red shawl,
clutched her 19-month-old infant to her chest. He was dressed in a stained
yellow T-shirt. His eyes lolled from side to side as flies landed on his
face and arms. "He is not improving," Amira said. "They have given him
vaccines and medicines. He has bad diarrhoea."

In another room Farhir (meaning happiness) sat with her two eight-week-old
twins. One twin's stomach was bloated and hard to the touch. He screamed. On
the next bed, a mother cleaned diarrhoea off the skeletal legs of an infant
standing in a blue tub, wailing. His ribs were exposed and his legs shook
from the exertion of standing.

In the corner of another room a young mother stood over a bed. The outline
of a small child could be seen, under a pink striped bedspread and blue
flowered blanket. The mother was wearing a niqab. Her eyes were dry and
empty as she said: "She is a girl." She picked up the bundle, wrapping the
covers tightly around the dead child, and walked quickly out of the ward to
look for somewhere to bury her.


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