As conditions worsen by the day in drought-ravaged Somalia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would provide $17 million in emergency food aid to the Horn of Africa, with $12 million allocated for humanitarian efforts in Somalia. The aid pledge came after President Obama approved a $105 million relief package earlier this week, bringing total United States contributions to the famine crisis to $508 million.
Clinton, though, warned that a long-term solution is necessary, adding to other voices who wonder whether Western aid can really help Somalia. ”Though food shortages may be triggered by drought, they are not caused by drought, but rather by weak or nonexistent agricultural systems that fail to produce enough food or market opportunities in good times and break down completely in the bad times,” she said.
In other words, while aid may be a temporary bandage for the dire conditions in Somalia, in the long run, negotiating with militant groups like al-Shabaab about how and when to contribute humanitarian relief could simply legitimize and enable their ongoing role as manipulative, violent opportunists.
Sarah Kenyon Lischer, a professor at Wake Forest University, warns of the dangers of unconditional support in a piece for the Huffington Post. ”The aid – including Land Rovers, laptops, and satellite phones – can support a war economy if it is diverted by militants,” she writes. ”Local and international workers face high risks of murder, abduction, and assault when working in such hostile areas. In the worst case, aid actually contributes to the prolongation of war and suffering.”
Other activists underscored the importance of prevention, especially with natural disasters like drought. The first alert for worsening food conditions was put out a year ago by climate scientists, who say that cuts to programs like Food for Peace could hurt the international community’s already limited ability to act quickly in times of crisis.
Apart from showing that slashing our international aid budget is a bad idea, the crisis in Somalia also illustrates the need to acknowledge the deep disasters that can be caused by climate change. Work to prevent a spiraling famine in a politically fragile area like the Horn of Africa should begin before, not after, the devastation begins.
Photo from Oxfam East Africa via flickr.