The Latest On the East African Famine

Monday, August 8, 2011
By ugandansabroad

By Rebecca Harshbarger

The crisis: Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are fleeing the worst famine in southern Somalia after a generation after two consecutive seasons of failed rains.  Livestock and crops are dead, and food prices have skyrocketed.  Kenyans and Ethiopians are also suffering from famine within their own borders. Al-Shabaab, a militant group linked to al-Qaeda that attacked Uganda in July 2010, rules much of southern Somalia, and has heavily taxed Somalis for food and other goods, often much more than 10 percent in taxes on everything sold in markets.

United Nations photograph by Stuart Price.

Al-Shabaab makes about $70-100 million in revenue per year from taxation and extortion, especially from contraband brought into Kenya, and charcoal exports.

International aid agencies, until last week, were also been blocked in al-Shabaab regions from delivering relief since 2009, the Washington Post reported.

Somali’s transitional government, backed by the U.S., is weak and corrupt, and has given little resources to alleviate the crisis.  The government has focused on stopping al-Shabaab from taking greater control over the country.

Al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu over the weekend, where fighters from the transitional government and African Union fighters had been battling street by street.

The African Union Mission for Somalia argued in an article in Foreign Policy in July that with donor support for 20,000 troops, they could drive al-Shaab out of Somalia, the Christian Science Monitor reported.  Unfortunately, al-Shabaab’s setbacks in Mogadishu has led to it being more aggressive in the southern region’s economy.

The impact: The U.N. estimates that almost 170,000 Somalis have arrived at already-crowded refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia since January.  About 1,300 Somalis arrive everyday in Kenya, and an average of 1,700 arrive in Ethiopia.  Families walk hundreds of miles with their children, and many die along the way.  Many also arrive when they finally reach the camps.  The executive director of the World Food Program told reporters that “in the Horn [of Africa], we could lose a generation.”

A medical officer for the African Union Mission in Somalia works to treat a malnourished Somali child. United Nations photograph by Stuart Price.

In the larger East African region, extremist groups like Al-Shabaab and allied groups like Kenya’s Muslim Youth Centre threaten security to the region, particularly after the bombings in Kampala a year ago.

“The crisis in the Horn of Africa is the most severe food security emergency in the world today,” the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has said.

Al-Shabaab’s Response: The militant group denies that any famine is taking place.  The group had said foreign aid workers are blocked from working in southern Somalia because they might be Western spies or Christian crusaders.  Last week, al-Shabaab reversed this decision and said foreign aid agencies could now enter the parts of Somalia it controls.

Is This Similar to 1992? : A famine struck Somalia in 1992, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.  The U.N. says 3.2 million people need life-saving assistance, and 19-24 children per 10,000 people in Somalia are dying on a daily basis.  In the past 90 days, almost 30,000 Somali children have died in southern Somalia, U.S.A. Today reported.  The U.N. says about 640,000 Somali kids are acutely malnourished.  80 percent of the arrivals in refugee camps are women and children, UNHCR has reported.

“Many Somali families who cross into Kenya at Liboi do not realize they must walk another 100 kilometres before arriving at the refugee camps in Dadaab,” says Olivia Yambi, UNICEF Kenya Representative, according to a U.N. report. “The health of some malnourished children crossing at Liboi is so precarious that they simply cannot wait until they get to Dadaab for treatment.

International Response: The wife of the U.S. vice-president, Jill Biden, visited a refugee camp in Kenya with an American delegation this week to raise awareness of the issue and put pressure on donors, the Daily Nation reported.  She met with two Somali mothers and their eight children.  The U.S. is expected to announce shortly $100 million in aid for famine relief efforts.  More than 12 million people will need immediate food aid.  Transport and security are major issues in delivering aid.  Food, vaccines, medicine, plastic sheets, cooking utensils are greatly needed.

The African Union has delayed a fundraiser for Somalia family victims, moving the date from August 9th to August 25th, after leaders asked for more time for preparation.  Uprisings in North Africa have increased the African Union’s financial challenges, the Daily Monitor reported.  The fundraiser will be held at their headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The African diaspora in New York City has been active in raising awareness, holding a rally in Times Square on Saturday.  Check back soon for our coverage of diaspora leadership on this issue.

The Kenyan government has allotted Ksh2 billion for a school-feeding program in famine-affected areas, and is using military trucks and National Youth Service trucks to deliver aid.  Check out this broadcast coverage by NTV Kenya of a fundraiser by Kenyans for Kenya.


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