MORE than 29,000 children are dead. Another 640,000 are malnourished enough that their death is a matter of time. The death toll increases from people scrambling for food or through gunmen who want to hijack food that relief organisations are distributing or stop it from reaching the people.
About 3.7 million, more than half the population of Somalia, are under threat from hunger. Multiple factors, including drought, crop failure, dramatic climate changes, and poor agricultural practices may be blamed for the famine, which is spreading the burden to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya.
Some with a historical bent cast the blames on colonialism, imperialism, the International Monetary Fund, IMF and the World Bank. They point at IMF-imposed economic policies that emphasise cash crops for export, to generate funds to pay off loans owed the West instead of food crops to feed the populace, as responsible for food shortages in many African countries.
In Somalia, the populace, especially in the southern parts, has two deadly options. People are trekking long distances (up to 120 kilometres) to reach crowded and over stretched refugee camps in Kenya. The alternative is joining the militants, who are luring new recruits with food. Predictions are that the famine could last until December.
The famine is exacerbated by the absence of a central government since General Mahammad Siad Barre was over thrown in 1991 after a 22-year dictatorship. Mogadishu, once its capital, now shares that distinction with as many places as factional leaders set up their own governments.
Various international interventions have failed, among them a 1992 effort in which Nigerian soldiers played prominent roles in rescuing United States soldiers (part of a United Nations force) whom Somalis disgraced out of the city. Lawlessness is another name for Somalia such that with thousands of children dying, one of the militant groups al-Shabaab imposed conditions for admitting relief materials.
Agreed the famine is part of a 60-year drought circle in Somalia, it is also true that even the best governments might have been unable to tackle the disaster, but Somalia’s case is worse because of the dangers of operating in a country under the control of several governments and without supporting infrastructure.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, in a statement said, “The crisis in the Horn of Africa is the most severe food security emergency in the world today. The situation has been exacerbated by protracted conflicts that over time have forced millions of people to flee their homes, abandoning land, livestock, and other productive assets.”
Relief materials are trickling in, but may be too late for thousands of families who are moving away from the drought.
Pathetic stories of how African leaders do not consider their people when making decisions continue in the camps. People are too sorrowful or weakened by the long trekking to cry. “My family, friends, and I struggled for years to become “food secure,” looking for pasture for our camels and goats. Hardly anything grows on the scorched earth that has been burnt by warfare; the aerial bombing and heavy artillery have turned over the topsoil, obliterating its organic matter.
We tried fertilizing small patches of land for growing vegetables without success. We sold livestock faster than we could replace them, as the price of millet and sorghum rose. My new baby did not grow much after his first year, having survived on breast milk. I could not produce enough milk for him, and he refused to take goat’s milk as a substitute,” a woman relayed her experience. “We managed to survive the first year the rains failed.
The second year was tougher. Left with only few livestock, not enough milk for the children, and certainly not enough money to buy cereals, we began to contemplate abandoning our homes,” she narrated.
While we appeal for support to get relief to the starving Somalis, we urge longer lasting measures that will return the people to their farms and livestock. Until the wars in Somalia end, the world would continue to be summoned to the Somali emergency.