Somalia Falls Victim To Another Famine

Once again the fear of famine grips Somalian people. The United Nations has identified Somalia along with three other African countries as being at extreme risk of famine. The price of food and water in Somalia is already very high, mostly due to a commodity shortage from the lack of rain and dry weather conditions. Additionally, although malnutrition, acute dehydration, acute diarrhea and cholera are spreading quickly, only those near hospitals have access to assistance. Somalia’s weather conditions have had dire results, including the death of 75% of livestock and a 75% reduction in crop production. According to the BBC News, the new President of Somalia, Mohamed Adbullahi Farmajo, declared the current drought a national disaster. He even asked the international community to help his people to prevent further deaths. In Puntland, a semi-self governing region belonging to the Somali Federation, local leaders have expressed grave concerns over the past year about food scarcity but still have not received any help. Men in this area are mainly pastoralists, meaning they have taken what is left of their herds to find water and pasture without success. In desperation, women and children have remained in the countryside and have had to live in displacement camps on the edge of town borders to eke out an existence on what food scraps they can find. Over 60% of the Puntland population depends on livestock.

According to Al Jazeera, a Doha-based state-funded broadcaster, more than half the Somalian population are acutely deprived of food and water. These figures are similar by reports done by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The United Nations (UN) in particular perceives the situation in Somalia to be very close to a famine. Many humanitarian organizations, including the UN, non-governmental organizations agree over $800 million is needed to assist the Somali people and prevent famine. Additionally, another problem rises with financial concern in Somalia. Mr. Watkins, Chief Executive of Save the Children United Kingdom, expressed concern to The Financial Times that there was insufficient detailed planning in Puntland, Somalia. Although $450 million was pledged for Somalia, details of its source and when it would be paid were unknown. The UN Secretary General, Mr Guterres, had a more positive view. He reported to The Financial Times that $100.6 billon had already been pledged to the Somalia appeal. He believed the central and regional government groups were better co-ordinated than previous and the links between them and the international humanitarian system were closer than in the past, however, the United States (US) has yet to determine its allocation for humanitarian assistance. US President Trump previously indicated there would be substantial cuts to this type of assistance. If this is the case, this will negatively affect those suffering food insecurity in Somalia.

Since the African continent is highly susceptible to drought and the fertile soil is highly susceptible to deterioration, the sustainability of the environment very important in many respects. Somalia, being part of the African continent, is currently experiencing a prolonged drought, forcing people to become internally displaced as they are unable to cope.

Somalia, according to Haynes, Hough, Malik and Pettiford, the authors of World Politics (2011), is a failed state. For over twenty years its people have endured violence and militant attacks from al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group, who today still fight for control of the rural areas of Somalia. Many Somali people have left their war-torn country to become refugees as chaos prevails. This is due to the breakdown of law and order from political instability. Social and political issues have gone unresolved, including human security, as the need for food was not satisfied as documented in World Politics. Recently, since a more stable government and President have been elected, there is hope that contingency plans for future food security will be developed quickly. Before Somalia experienced the turmoil of war, the people were agriculturally self-sufficient and able to cope with droughts.

The UN declares a famine or humanitarian catastrophe when “two people per 10, 000 die each day, when acute malnutrition rates are more than 30%, all livestock have died and each person has less than four litres of water and less than 2, 100 kilocalories of food.” From this definition, loss of life is very high before a famine is declared and assistance arrives too late if the world waits until this time. In the past, famine assistance for Somalia has become both political and militarized. This became evident during the 2010-2011 famine which was more localized. Western countries, especially the US which took a lead role, supported the Somali transitional government and feared aid, provided by them, would be captured by al-Shabaab. To counteract this, constraints were imposed on operations within Somalia and aid amounts were reduced.  Oxfam asserts that famine results from three deficits: lack of food production, people’s inability to get food and a government’s inability to deal with chronic poverty. To ensure future famines do not cause human suffering, the Somali government must be proactive and develop a plan to use when food security issues arise. Additionally, chronic poverty and other social issues must be addressed so that food is always readily available. Needy people who are always vulnerable and less able to cope must be given assistance. Such structural inequalities need resolution if human suffering in Somalia is to cease. Sometimes food shortages result from economic systems based on the free market approach which gives advantage to those with power. Somalia, a less developed country, has little power.

The global world, which encourages interdependence, also must assume collective responsibility for the victims of famine. They must also react quickly to requests for assistance. Failure to do so will mean further suffering for more people. Early warning signs need to be conveyed to the global world as soon as possible so quick, positive assistance can be provided. Having three other areas, in Africa, in addition to Somalia needing help adds extra pressure for those countries willing to provide assistance. Long term human security, as discussed in World Politics, will only occur when the Somali government shows strong leadership and develops proactive measures and systems of governance to secure this position. This means focusing on its citizens and their basic needs. Cooperative links and strong, positive communication between the central government leaders and the regional leaders is also required.  Although al-Shabaab no longer operates in the cities, it still has a strong hold in more rural areas which makes keeping people safe a challenge. Somalia has been consumed to such an extent with war it has little defense against mass starvation. The usual process in such circumstances is for the community to look after itself, then seek assistance from the national government and finally the global world. The Puntland regional Environment Minister told Al Jazeera News, the local community raised one million dollars in 2016, however more was needed. The Somali government was unable to assist putting more pressure on the global world to help out. Long term war, inter-clan rivalry and war lords exerting their power have affected infrastructure in Somalia. Much work is needed so people in outlying rural areas have access to assistance and can acquire it with ease on a regular basis. Availability of hardier crops which can withstand challenging weather, needs investigation as does reserves of basic grains to provide supplies when food is unavailable.

The potential capacity of the global market today to produce food is very high, yet acute shortages of food prevail in the African continent. A detailed analysis of how food is produced, distributed and consumed may highlight where deficits occur and where human suffering can be negated. Non-governmental agencies need to have a two-fold role. First, they need to obtain donations to deal with the immediate crisis of human suffering and food insecurity. Swift action at an early stage is required to stop an escalation of severity and scale of the famine. This is reactive work and does not deal with the fundamental causes of famine, which are politically and socially based. Non-governmental agencies have a moral responsibility to voice their concerns about structural inequalities, such as chronic poverty, as it will help the new Somali government initiate progressive reforms in social areas.

Famine and human suffering are the collective responsibility of all in the global world. Positive action now in the form of political and social reforms will guard against future human suffering and food insecurity. This is a must if people are to be free from famine.

Louisa Slack


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