Fourteen people, most of whom are reported to be civilians, have been killed in Somalia after a number of soldiers attempted to steal food aid meant to be distributed to Somalis amidst the country’s severe humanitarian crisis. According to reports by the Associated Press (AP), a fight broke out at an aid distribution centre in the south-western city of Baidoa, after soldiers stationed at the centre confronted a group of individuals – also soldiers – trying to steal sacks of food. In addition to the fourteen individuals killed in the confrontation, it is also thought that more than twenty people were injured in the incident, some critically, according to reports from staff at the main hospital in Baidoa.
Somalia, along with Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria form the core of what the United Nations recently described as the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II in 1945. The four identified countries are plagued by domestic instability, food shortages and impending starvation and famine, which has been projected to impact more than 20 million people.
National security and stability have long been threatened in Somalia, stemming from civil conflict in 1991 as well as an ongoing presence of al-Shabab – an Islamic militant group that has links to Al-Qaeda and has claimed control over some parts of the country. In line with the concern raised by the UN as to the dire conditions for millions across the four aforementioned countries, Somalia also has a history of severe droughts followed by food shortages and then a subsequent heightened risk of famine. It is thought that the droughts are linked to global warming and climate change, and wreak havoc by spoiling fertile land and threatening the survival of livestock for many across Somalia.
As a result, the internal displacement of people has become a huge issue in Somalia, as Somalis are forced to move across the country in search of food, water, and other essential supplies. Many of those who are forced to seek food elsewhere have been travelling to cities such as Baidoa, and as such, the city has become host to over 140,000 refugees according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Such a demand for humanitarian assistance has put considerable strain on humanitarian agencies to meet the urgent need for aid. In addition, the challenge of providing aid to those who desperately requires it is often complicated by the presence of al-Shabab, who control certain areas of the country and therefore restrict the physical reach humanitarian agencies can have.
Incidents such as this show the intensity of the humanitarian crisis that is being faced in Somalia. The severity of the situation is highlighted in an investigative report by ABC News and the Ground Truth Project, in which a man living with his wife and five children in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya notes that the threat of terrorism pales in comparison to the damage caused by drought and food shortages. “Between insecurity and drought, drought is worse,” he says. “If a person has food and he is killed or arrested, it’s not as bad. But it’s worse when someone dies of hunger.” The threat of famine is dire in Somalia, and this week’s incident resulting in the death of fourteen is indicative of the desperation of thousands, perhaps millions, across Somalia for basic supplies needed to survive amidst the severe humanitarian crisis that has plagued the country.
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