Starvation in Somalia

Bad news from Somalia:

After weeks of receiving threats and demands that it dismiss many female employees and pay a “security fee” to an Islamic extremist group, the United Nations World Food Program announced Tuesday that it was suspending food deliveries to one million people in southern Somalia indefinitely.

The cutoff, which includes the withdrawal of more than 40 local staff members, will affect roughly one third of the 2.8 million people whom the food program had anticipated feeding in Somalia in January.

“In the past few weeks there has been a harder line of unacceptable demands and conditions set by armed groups in these areas,” said Peter Smerdon, the spokesman for the program, by telephone from Nairobi, Kenya. “We sadly had to make the decision to pull our staff out.”

Nuradin Dirie outlined in a recent speech some of the other aspects of Somalia’s dysfunction as a state:

In 2009, Somalia is still no nearer to forming a functioning central state than when it started to disintegrate in 1991.

Since 1991 the United Nations Security Council has adopted 43 resolutions about the situation of Somalia. This resulted in 15 attempts of internationally driven state-building processes, two international peace-keeping operations and a cost of 8 billion US dollars.

The current Transitional Federal Government is the latest attempt to establish the Somali state. Unfortunately, the government is severely challenged. The civilian population is trapped between the armed opposition on the one hand and the international and Somali forces on the other.

The human cost is great indeed. Since the collapse of the Somali state, one million people in Somalia died as a consequence of war, famine, and disease – a profound human tragedy. And as I speak, today we have 1.5 million people who are displaced within the country. They are essentially refugees in their own country. Somalia has the highest levels of malnutrition in the world with up to 300,000 children acutely malnourished annually. In fact, nearly 4 million people are now in what the UN calls, ‘humanitarian crisis’ – basically going to bed hungry every night.

The fighting is also depriving civilians of basic services such as health, because medics can’t reach people and people can’t get to hospitals. Pregnant women often spend days trying to get to a hospital because there are no health facilities nearby where they feel safe. Many are still travelling when labour starts and a number have died, along with their unborn children, because they couldn’t reach help in time.

But what is more disconcerting is that the insecurity in the country today has created treacherous conditions for aid agencies trying to deliver live-saving services. Indeed Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian aid workers. Last year one-third of all humanitarian casualties worldwide occurred in Somalia.

and then there is the piracy:

Almost every nation was affected by these piracy attacks in 2008 either in vessel hijackings or increased prices for oil and other goods as a result of increased insurance premiums and the costs related to risk and security precautions. Others have increased their costs by travelling around the Cape of Good Hope in order to bypass the long Somali coastline and so avoid the pirates. According to Rand Foundation, the overall annual cost of piracy to the maritime industry is estimated to be between $1 billion and $16 billion.

The scale of these costs as a direct collapse of the Somali state is all too evident when one considers that Somali pirates can potentially impact on some 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden annually, including some 6,500 tankers which carry seven percent of the world’s daily oil supply.

It is to address that potential scale of disruption that the UN Security Council quickly issued four resolutions in 2008 to facilitate an international response to piracy off the Horn of Africa. It has triggered the deployment of perhaps the most eclectic and diverse armada of naval firepower ever assembled. And yet, despite the naval force of some thirty nations, the military presence has been unable to deter the attacks.

The failure of these counter-piracy operations reinforces that the reestablishment of government authority in Somalia is the only guarantee that piracy will not persist or re-emerge as a threat.

Any argument used to justify international involvement in Afghanistan, including the long-term prevention of terrorism, could be equally applied to supporting the development of a stable government in Somalia. The UN previously failed in Somalia with UNOSOM II in the early 1990s, following the decision by Clinton to withdraw troops in the face of public opinon post Battle of Mogadishu. Post Sept 11 the US made the decision that containment of the Somalian problem was the best option, and this has continued to the present day.

Dirie is probably right in his analysis, that only an effective government in Somalia can fix this suppurating wound on the horn of Africa, discharging its toxins into Ethopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, and the sea.

But this is a wound that no-one is prepared to dress.