From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Jul 28 2011 - 16:02:44 EDT
Five Things to Know About the Horn of Africa Food Crisis
on.aspx> Benjamin Dalton, Global Public Square, CNN |
28 Jul 2011
Famine has returned to the Horn of Africa, and Somalia is the worst hit. For
the first time since the early 90s, the United Nations has declared a famine
in parts of southern Somalia, meaning that more than 30 percent of the
population is malnourished. All told, 3.7 million Somalis are in need of
immediate food aid, part of some 11.5 million in need across the Horn of
Africa. Each month, huge streams of refugees cross the border into Ethiopia
and Kenya-nearly 170,000 since January-spreading the humanitarian crisis
with them. Tens of thousands have already died.
At fault are three big factors. First, rainfall has been sparse for the past
two years, causing widespread crop failures and depletion of food reserves.
Second, food prices worldwide have skyrocketed, so the shortfall in produce
among the poor cannot be made up in trade and imports. Finally, chronic
insecurity in southern Somalia has exacerbated the situation. Much of
southern Somalia is controlled by Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group at
war with the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government.
Al-Shabaab has also prevented many international agencies from distributing
food aid to affected areas.
It is only a matter of time before famine is declared in much of south
Somalia. Somalia is at the center of the emergency, but much of the Horn of
Africa is at risk. If humanitarian relief does not reach people in southern
Somalia immediately, further refugee flows could undermine food security in
The international community has to act -and act fast - to stop the growing
crisis. As the U.S. and other governments consider their options, here are
five things to keep in mind.
1. Don't let Al-Shabaab deny your humanitarian impulse. The U.S. government
has voiced concern that assistance to Somalia could end up in the hands of
Al-Shabaab, a designated terrorist organization. As a result, in 2010, U.S.
aid to Somalia dropped to just one tenth of what it was two years before. It
is true that armed groups were "taxing" humanitarian aid, but this is
unavoidable in complex emergencies. Whatever marginal benefit Al-Shabaab
derives from foreign aid, it is far outweighed by the goodwill and increased
stability that aid generates. This is also an important way to show Somalis
and the Muslim world at large that the West cares about more than waging a
"War on Terror".
2. Instead, think of this as an opportunity. Al-Shabaab is not a monolithic
organization. It includes both hardliners and pragmatists. In July, the
organization made two statements, one appealing for a return of
international humanitarian agencies and the other claiming that any news of
famine was "sheer propaganda." Boosting international aid may help to woo
those members willing to renounce terrorism away from the increasingly
3. That said, international efforts must work together. Attempts to
stabilize Somalia must be coordinated and carefully managed. Reporting from
Somalia suggests that much internal displacement is directly attributable to
military campaigns by the internationally funded Transitional Federal
Government. As much as possible, the military push against Al-Shabaab should
not aggravate an already poor humanitarian situation. Aid should also not
empower re-emerging warlords.
4. The best way to prevent famines over the long-term is to foster peace and
stability. It's no surprise that the crisis is much less serious in
Somaliland and Puntland, autonomous regions in northern Somalia that have
been relatively stable. Immediate, short-term food aid must be followed by
longer-term efforts to promote stability and good governance. That means
looking beyond the narrow focus of defeating Al-Shabaab. Given a corrupt and
ineffective Transitional Federal Government, international donors should not
focus exclusively on the central government in Mogadishu, but also support
stable, responsive and accountable local authorities. Because of
longstanding clan competition and mistrust, a decentralized form of
government is much more appropriate in the current Somali environment.
5. Even if governments don't launch a full-scale relief program, they can
still help. For instance, the U.S. should temporarily lift Office of Foreign
Asset Control restrictions, which prevent aid groups from operating in areas
"controlled" by Al-Shabaab.
The international response to famine is typically presented as a
humanitarian mission. While that alone more than justifies international
involvement, governments should also consider that food aid in Somalia and
the Horn of Africa is strategic - that it can change negative perceptions
about the West and reduce insecurity in the whole region. They should get
Editor's Note: EJ Hogendoorn is the Horn of Africa Project Director for the
International Crisis Group and Ben Dalton is a Communications & IT Officer.
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