The famine that has hit Somalia hard since this past July has spread to a sixth part of the country. On Monday, United Nations officials said that 750,000 people could die unless aid efforts are greatly stepped up. Years of droughts, war and restrictions on aid groups are taking a lethal toll on the country, with nearly four million people — more than half the population of Somalia — in “crisis,” according to the New York Times. Food prices are soaring and agricultural production is the worst in 17 years, at only a quarter of what it normally is.
A number of factors have made bringing aid to Somalia even more difficult. The Guardian reports that Al-Shabab insurgents, whom the New York Times says are “one of Africa’s most fearsome militant Islamist groups,” have prevented thousands of people fleeing famine-struck areas from access to humanitarian aid in Mogadishu. Instead, Al-Shabab has taken people to the K50 camp 50 kilometers outside of Mogadishu, where 45,000 people are now living in makeshift shelters. Shafie Mohamed Abdi, a volunteer doctor who runs a clinic in K50, says that he and another doctor serve all of the camp’s residents. Most of the camp’s children are malnourished and suffering from hunger-related diseases and there have been outbreaks of both measles and diarrhea in the camp.
Al-Shabab controls most of the southern part of Somalia and, since 2007, has claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda.
Said a Mogadishu-based journalist who visited K50 of the refugees, many of whom are from the southern famine-struck regions of Bay and Bakool:
“They have become pawns. I don’t think they understand why they are not getting the same attention as those in Mogadishu,” he said, requesting, like almost everyone who talks about al-Shabab, not be identified by name.
An aid worker in Mogadishu described two reasons for why Al-Shabab is preventing displaced people from reaching Mogadishu:
One, they don’t want people to abandon their area of control. Two, they don’t want to be seen as unable to help the needy and their leaving is a vote of no-confidence in the group.”
Meanwhile, the situation only becomes more dire, with people arriving at the camp carrying children who are already malnourished. The K50 camp has a shortage of water, a lack of shelter and very poor sanitation.
Slate reveals the complexities of helping Somalia, noting that more money for the country will not necessarily solve its problems:
As the Guardian reported over the weekend, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, accused organizations of painting a misleading picture of the situation in Somalia because regardless of how much cash were available, hardly any relief agencies are able to work inside war-torn Somalia. “We may have to live with the reality that we may never be able to reach the communities most in need of help,” he said.
Since Somalia’s government collapsed twenty years ago in 1991, the country has gone from crisis to crisis. While aid officials predict that the drought, which has spread to Kenya and Ethiopia, will end in October, the rains may bring other dangers, including waterborne diseases like cholera and the risk of infection.
Can we just stand by and let Somalia starve?
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Photo taken August 10, 2011, by Utenriksdept