Monday, July 25, 2011

Somalia - A failure of politics

Imagine walking from Belfast to Dublin or from Derry to Cork!

Imagine doing it in your bare feet.

Imagine walking in the scorching heat and with no water and food.

Imagine carrying your children and being forced to leave some of them lying dead at the side of the road because you haven’t the strength to dig a hole to bury them.

Imagine a landscape blasted by heat, with sparse vegetation and the rotting remains of cattle and other animals dead of thirst. A harsh and unforgiving countryside.
Imagine that those around you are empty eyed and gaunt, with swollen and extended stomachs.

This is the reality of life and death for hundreds of thousands of men, woman and children. It is the immediate future for millions more. It is Somalia.

Famine is a terrible word. It conjures up frightening images and for many in Ireland a folk memory of the Great Hunger of the 1840’s.

The Horn of Africa today, like much of Africa, is still conflicted by the brutal legacy of colonisation. It is also caught up in the post 9-11 international conflict with Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Climate change may be playing its part but it is the decisions of past colonial governments; and the policies being pursued by the international community, and local indigenous governments, including a Somali government whose remit extends only a few kilometres beyond Mogadishu, which have created this crisis. Ultimately it is a failure of politics.

No one will be surprised that the area worst affected correlate to those which suffer entrenched deprivation and poverty and where there has been an absence of investment in infrastructure – health programmes – agricultural training – education for children and jobs.

Somalia, northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia are experiencing their worst drought in 60 years. This has had a disastrous impact on the largely pastoral and farming communities living in the affected area.

10 million people are affected by the famine. That is almost twice the population of this island. It’s the first time in almost 20 years that the word famine has been used to describe the conditions in Somalia.

Everyday hungry, thirsty, tired and emaciated figures make their way in slow processions through a blistered, dying landscape toward hastily erected refugee camps. Dadaab in Kenya has almost 400,000 people crammed within its increasing boundaries. That’s more people than live in the city of Belfast totally dependent on international aid.

The 4,000 people living in a refugee camp called ‘Safety’ on the outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, have built their homes out of plastic sheets wood and branches. People sleep on the ground.

The horror stories now being reported by the media tell the desperate story of people on the edge of disaster. One report recorded the experience of Amina who had walked 50 kilometres with her one and a half year old son on her back only to discover when she arrived at ‘Safety’ that he was dead.

The UN defines famine as:
• More than 30% of children suffering from acute malnutrition
• Two adults or four children dying of hunger each day for every group of 10,000 people
• The population must have less than 2100 calories of food each day.

In the famine affected areas of Bakool and Lower Shabelle the reality is already far worse than this.

Aid is needed immediately. But the Norwegian attacks, which left over 90 dead and the death of Amy Winehouse have again pushed this issue off the media agenda. This reduces the political momentum for the urgent intervention that is essential to save lives.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the Islamist rebel group, al-Shabaab, which controls much of the area affected, has denied lifting a ban on some of the aid organisations and has rejected any suggestion that there is a famine in the region.

The UN Food Agency is holding crisis talks on the issue in Rome and there have been pledges of money for famine aid, but thus far it is insufficient to meet the immediate needs of those millions at risk and it is inadequate in building the necessary infrastructure to minimise the threat of famine in the future.

More needs done and quickly.

For now there are a multitude of international aid organisations working in the region. Among them are Irish organisations like Concern and Goal and Trocaire. If you can donate check out their websites and do so.

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

Hello Gerry,
So right a "Failure of Politics" The situation in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia is proving to be the test of our collective abilities to handle such great events, when they occur simultaneously. Events affecting the global food markets, regional food security issues, displacing people, and creating refugees across borders.The UN has described Aid To Africa as the greatest humanitarian disaster of 2011, well short of what is required. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said $1.6 billion is needed for Somalia, with $300 million needed in the next two months to alleviate the famine conditions. Yes Gerry a real political failure, if not a human one.