`Off the charts`: 133,000 Somali children die in famine after militant ban, slow aid response
By JASON STRAZIUSO
May 02, 2013
An aerial view shows Seyidka settlement for the famine stricken, internally displaced people in Somalia`s capital Mogadishu, September 6, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Taxta
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - A decision by extremist Islamic militants to ban delivery of food aid and a “normalization of crisis” that numbed international donors to unfolding disaster made south-central Somalia the most dangerous place in the world to be a child in 2011.
The first in-depth study of famine deaths in Somalia in 2011 was released Thursday, and it estimates that 133,000 children under age 5 died, with child death rates approaching 20 percent in some communities.
That`s 133,000 under-5 child deaths out of an estimated 6.5 million people in south-central Somalia. That compares to 65,000 under-5 deaths that occurred in all industrial countries in the world combined during the same period, a population of 990 million, said Chris Hillbruner, a senior food security adviser at FEWS NET, a U.S.-sponsored famine warning agency.
“The scale of the child mortality is really off the charts,” Hillbruner said in a telephone interview from Washington.
FEWS NET was one of two food security agencies that sponsored the study. The other was the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit - Somalia. The two agencies had warned the world as early as fall 2010 that failed rains in Somalia meant a hunger crisis was approaching.
“The world was too slow to respond to stark warnings of drought, exacerbated by conflict in Somalia, and people paid with their lives. These deaths could and should have been prevented,” said Senait Gebregziabher, the Somalia director for the aid group Oxfam.
The new study put the total number of famine deaths at nearly 260,000. The Associated Press first reported the death toll on Monday, based on officials who had been briefed on the report.
In March 2011 some 13,000 people died from famine, the study found. In May and June 30,000 people died each month -- at least half of them children. The U.N.`s formal declaration of famine didn`t happen until July.
Why was there such a slow humanitarian response? One reason Hillbruner indicated was the feeling that Somalis are always suffering.
“I think that one of the key issues is that there was this normalization of crisis in south-central Somalia, and that I think the international community has become used to levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in southern Somalia that in other parts of the world would be considered unacceptable,” Hillbruner said.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the hardest-hit famine regions were controlled by the extremist Islamist group al-Shabab.
“Al-Shabab`s inhumane blockage of humanitarian assistance prior to and during the famine, including banning dozens of humanitarian organizations from providing lifesaving assistance, thwarted a more rapid international rapid humanitarian response that could have saved even more lives,” Ventrell said. “And equally, al-Shabab`s refusal to allow affected populations to leave al-Shabab-controlled areas prevented them from seeking assistance elsewhere.”
The study was conducted by Francesco Checchi, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Courtland Robinson, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University. It drew on 200 mortality surveys by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit , including 61 from the famine period, and data on food prices, wages and humanitarian access.
Philippe Lazzarini, the chief U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said in a video news conference from Mogadishu Thursday that the death toll was shocking and sobering. He said the report confirms that aid groups should have done more before famine was declared -- by which point 120,000 people had already died.
Lazzarini also noted that more than a dozen aid groups were banned from operating in south-central Somalia by al-Shabab, a hardline anti-West political decision that made saving lives “extraordinarily difficult.” He said that in the months before famine was declared the crisis did not receive the amount of attention it should have, in part because of a lack of access because of al-Shabab.
“The famine was almost a silent drama of tragedy,” he said. “It was not on the news. Media did not have access. Agencies did not have access. The extraordinary challenge of access explains why the early response, despite the early warning, did not really take place.”
Ken Menkaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College, said some elements of al-Shabab bear major responsibility for famine deaths, but that other factors contributed as well, including a corrupt Somali central government and general insecurity that made travel in Somalia dangerous.
Thousands of Somalis walked dozens or hundreds of miles to reach camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Countless numbers of families lost children or elderly members along routes that became known as roads of death.
Somalia has made great progress since the famine ended in February 2012. Al-Shabab has been forced out of Mogadishu and now controls far less territory than it once did. The government appears more capable than the Transitional Federal Government in place during the famine, but challenges like child mortality and food security remain.
Gebregziabher said a global conference on Somalia which will be held in London next week should encourage investment in long-term development to ensure the country does not suffer famine again.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2013. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Charge Somalia`s Leaders in the Hague
by Bo Goransson And Cecilia Backlander
August 23, 2011
Aug 23, 2011 (Nairobi Star/All Africa Global Media) -- It is not drought or nature that causes starvation on the Horn of Africa. War, conflict and irresponsible leaders are to blame for the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people forced to migrate and seek refuge for a chance to survive. Many will die. If these leaders are allowed to continue there will be new famines. The world should make the same demands on the leaders in Somalia as on any other leaders. They should be brought to The Hague and charged with crimes against humanity.
The picture is of course complex. In Somalia there are lots of competent and entrepreneurial people who hijack ships, launder money, deal in drugs and weapons - but also people who in a vacuum and without a functioning state create hi-tech communications systems, manage money transfers, and start up radio stations.
Drought and floods come and go in Somalia, they always have. Climate change may have increased volatility, but people have been able to manage the caprices of nature without massive starvation. The Somali leaders are not the only actors. Ethiopia is neglecting the drought-prone Ogaden region where many Somali live and where there is a Somali liberation movement. Kenya has for years disregarded its North-Eastern province, where the influx of Somalis has been large for a long time. Eritrea is in constant conflict with Ethiopia and hence supports all Ethiopia`s enemies, for instance Al Shabab, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The sad truth is that the only reasonably calm period in Somalia over the last 20 years was the short period when the `Islamic courts` had a big influence around 2006. They kept the war lords at bay and had the support of the population in the capital Mogadishu. This support was not about religion but about yearning for peace. Many accepted restrictions of liberties in order to avoid the combats. But with the support of the international community, not least the United States, Ethiopia intervened with its troops in the fall of 2006, and chaos once again became the order of the day. And the - at least superficially - moderate Islamic courts were replaced by the fundamentalist Al Shabab.
What can be done to break this vicious circle? Food deliveries are hopefully solving the most urgent problem. In the longer term, starting now but for many years ahead: investments in roads, tree planting, improved water conservation methods, access to markets, more schools and health centers, new cultivation methods and income opportunities.
But Somalia`s problems run deeper. There has not been any government with a mandate or power to develop the country, not even to end the destruction. There have been neither taxes nor private capital willing and able to supply the necessary development investments. The country has been ruled by clans and war lords.
Those who are now starving are not the strong groups, many of whom are doing well. Therefore, some form of organized government is a pre-condition for preventing drought resulting in starvation again in five or ten years` time. But then more people need to gain from peace and stability than from chaos and conflict.
That process will not be possible for Somalia to manage unless the international community lines up a united and strong front, exerting common pressure. The summit to be held in Addis Ababa shortly is labeled a pledging conference for the humanitarian work. But the conference needs to address the fundamental issues, and they are political.
In Somalia, the provisional government has made progress lately. Al Shabab has been forced out of Mogadishu and retreated to the South. The possibilities of humanitarian aid to get through has increased. This may be a temporary retreat. It is important to remember that the breeding ground for Al Shabab is not religion, but discontent in the Somali society with the chaos that has prevailed in the country for many years. The challenge is to give some form of democracy the chance to deliver order and development. Democracy never had that opportunity in Somalia.
Beyond the misery endured by the Somali people, lawlessness in their country causes big damage in other parts of the region. It is not only a mass exodus of hungry people. The piracy loot, the weapons, and the drugs spill over to the neighboring countries. Somalia is no isolated island; hence the 400 000 refugees in Dadaab, hence whole new blocks in Nairobi constructed with piracy money, feeding crime and corruption. One can be sure that this is not benefiting poor people.
Dying of starvation is forced suicide, the body consumes itself. To create starvation should be equated with murder. We do not accept that murderers go free, we no longer accept that leaders repress their people. The tyrants in North Africa have been forced to realize this. The leaders of Somalia should also be brought to accountability. They have through their actions forced millions of people to flee and they are putting the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk. Why should they not be brought to The Hague?
Bo Goransson is a former Director General of Sida, Swedish ambassador in Kenya, and advisor to the African Development Bank, and Cecilia Backlander, former Program Director of Educational Broadcasting Company, presently freelance journalist and TV producer.
© 2011 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved
Somalia: A very man-made disaster
By Alex perry, Time
August 18, 2011
Young goat suckling donkey`s breasts
The difference between a drought and a famine is down to man. Texas is in the middle of its worst drought on record right now but cowboys aren`t starving – because Texas, and the US, have government and economy enough to ensure they don`t. Somalia doesn`t have any government worthy of the name and that`s one reason why persistent drought has pushed around 3 million Somalis in the south of the country close to starvation.
The difference between ungoverned Somalia and its better-governed neighbors, Ethiopia and Kenya, is starkly visible on a map: on one side of the border, famine; on the other hunger, and a refugee crisis, but no mass starvation. As Nancy Lindborg, co-ordinating the U.S. response to the famine, says: “If you ever needed a strong case for the need for democratic inclusive government...”
But Somalia`s famine is also about the lack of something else: a decent aid operation. There are three reasons the emergency effort to save starving Somalis is falling tragically short.
First, the UN was late calling it. The Famine Early Warnings Systems Network first warned of a hunger crisis last September, and that in a situation the UN has already labelled the worst humanitarian situation on earth for years. But it wasn`t until July 20 that the UN began an appeal, and called a famine. Given debt crises in Europe and the US, it is hardly surprising the UN found it could not instantly raise the $2.48 bln it said it needed. Funding today has reached just 55% of that total, “dangerously inadequate” said British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell yesterday after visiting Mogadishu for a few hours.
Second, Western aid agencies aren`t reaching many of the starving. Some, incredibly, are pretending they are. Oxfam is one agency raising money for Somalia and claiming to be reaching hundreds of thousands when, as a spokesman admitted to TIME, it doesn`t actually distribute food and has no staff in the famine area. Less disingenuous agencies will admit the emergency operation is not going well. The UN says a mere 20% of the 2.8 million southern Somalis in need are being reached.
The World Food Program, the big player in global famine relief, is reaching even less than that proportion among the 500,000 refugees in Mogadishu, largely because of security concerns. Nearly all Western aid workers stay on a sand-bagged, razor-wired base on the beach attached to Mogadishu airport that, sealed off from the city and patrolled by armed guards, is effectively hardly part of Somalia at all. Rarely do they venture out. WFP does send out 85,000 pre-cooked hot meals every day for distribution through local charities. But stopping mass starvation requires mass food delivery and no one has attempted that since the WFP`s one attempt at bulk distribution in early August ended in a riot and seven deaths. Three weeks after the UN declared a famine, refugees I talked to in a camp just 200 meters from the airport had yet to be fed.
Third, southern Somalia is loosely controled by an al Qaeda-allied guerrilla group, al Shabab. The U.S. listed al Shabab as an international terrorist group in 2008, a designation fully justified by its killing of 76 civilians in twin suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in July 2010. Delivering food aid is a dirty business, rife with pilfering, and like governments and aid contractors, al Shabab used to steal a proportion of the food that was delivered to its areas, either to eat itself or sell in the market. But with al Shabab`s listing, US aid officials and any aid worker handling US food suddenly had a legal obligation to ensure none of benefitted al Shabab, even inadvertently. The way they dealt with that was to suspend most aid to southern Somalia by the end of 2009. Al Shabab then added its own block by banning WFP, which it accused of being a U.S. puppet, from its territory in January 2010.
The result is that not only are there now very few assistance operations in southern Somalia, there is no pipeline in place through which to funnel large of amounts of food aid in the event of an emergency. Perhaps realizing it had unwittingly helped cause a famine, earlier this month the US tried to reassure aid workers that it would not prosecute them if they accidentally ended up aiding or abetting al Shabab. But an emergency food aid operation takes weeks to put together, while food takes yet more weeks to ship around the world, and so far little extra aid has yet arrived. Moreover, officials from the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) aren`t shy about saying that they consider the famine, which has substantially weakened al Shabab, a real strategic boost. Their plan: defeat al Shabab first, and only then allow aid.
Caught in the middle of these excruciating dynamics are millions of starving Somalis. There is barely a spare piece of land in Mogadishu today, so many refugees are crowding the city. Local businessmen are adopting a few hundred familes here and there; some Middle Eastern and Islamic charities are also reaching those they can. But with so little done so late, there seems almost nothing to prevent tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Somalis from dying in the next few weeks. As they do, remember: this was preventable. Drought came from nature and climate change. But death, mass starvation, camp epidemics of cholera, measles, diarrhoea and malaria? Somehow, unbelievably, that`s on us.
World Bank says famine in Horn of Africa is manmade
Daily The Pak Banker
August 18, 2011
Donkeys try to get water from a container in front of refugee home.
The famine in the Horn of Africa is manmade -- the result of artificially high prices for food and civil conflict, the World Bank s lead economist for Kenya Wolfgang Fengler said.
“This crisis is manmade,” Fengler said in a telephone interview. “Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine.” Some 12.4 million people in the Horn of Africa -- including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti -- are affected by the worst drought in decades, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands of people have already died.
Fengler said the price of maize, or corn, was significantly higher in east Africa than in the rest of the world due to controls on local food markets.
“In Kenya, the price for corn is 60 to 70 percent above the world average at the moment,” he said. “A small number of farmers are controlling the market which is keeping prices artificially high.” The World Bank said Monday its Food Price index increased 33 percent in July from a year ago and stayed close to 2008 peak levels, with large rises in the prices for maize and sugar.
High food and energy prices have stoked inflation pressures around the globe, but the problem has been more acute in developing nations.
“Maize is cheaper in the United States and in Germany than it is in eastern Africa,” said Fengler.
Somalia s two-decade long war is also seen as exacerbating the famine in the Horn of Africa.
Some 3.7 million Somalis risk starvation in two regions of south Somalia controlled by militant group al Shabaab, which has blamed food aid for creating dependency and blocked humanitarian deliveries in the past.
The group has accused the United Nations of exaggerating the severity of the drought and politicizing the crisis.
© Copyright 2011. Right Vision Communications Private Limited.
2011 Somali Famine Worse Than 1992`s
May 02, 2013
A Somali child is seen in a refugee camp in Baidoa December 13, 1992. Photo taken December 13, 1992. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis.
May 02, 2013 (Deutsche Welle/All Africa Global Media) -- The famine in Somalia during 2011 and 2012 claimed a quarter of a million lives, according to the UN`s Food and Agricultural Organization. Half of the victims were small children. The toll is double previous estimates.
A joint study released on Thursday by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) concludes that 258,000 people died during Somalia`s hunger catastrophe between October 2010 and April 2012.
Of these, 133,000 were children younger than 5, according to the report.
The toll amounts to even more than the 220,000 deaths estimated over 12 months during Somalia`s 1992 famine, which grabbed world media attention.
Previous estimates of Somalia`s 2011-12 famine had put the death toll at between 50,000 and 100,000.
“The report confirms we should have done more before the famine was declared,” said Philippe Lazzarini, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia in a statement released on Thursday in Nairobi.
“Warnings that began as far back as the drought in 2010 did not trigger sufficient early action,” Lazzarini said. “The suffering played out like a drama without witnesses.”
Reacting to the study`s findings on Thursday, Senait Gebregziabher, a regional director of the British charity Oxfam, said famines “are not natural phenomena: They are catastrophic political failures.”
Chronology of disaster
Extreme drought across the Horn of Africa in 2011 affected more than 13 million people.
By July 2011 the United Nations had officially declared a nutritional emergency in numerous Somali regions. Hundreds of thousands fled Somalia into neighboring countries, notably Kenya.
In February of 2012, the United Nations declared a famine, which under UN definition implies that at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with two deaths per 10,000 people every day.
The joint FAO-FEWS NET study is described as the first scientific estimate of how many Somalis died during the latest famine.
Oxfam`s Gebregziabher urged world leaders who will meet next week in London at the Somalia 2013 Conference to “take steps to ensure that this was Somalia`s last famine.”
The solutions must include long-term development, job creation and ensuring security, said Gebregziabher.
After more than two decades of civil war, Somalia remains one of the world`s most dangerous places for inhabitants, including aid workers, but security has slowly improved after gradual advances by African Union (AU) and Somali government troops against Islamist Shebab fighters linked to al-Qaeda.
FAO chief lauds aid efforts
In late April, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva told African leaders at a conference in Rome that Africa had “an enormous window of opportunity,” to eradicate hunger across the continent.
He said the key lay in capitalizing on solutions already found by numerous African nations to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition, including the creation of an Africa Food Security Trust Fund.
“By building on these experiences we can eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. Together we can stop the suffering of the estimated 23 percent of all Africans who remain undernourished, and 40 percent of children under 5 who are stunted or malnourished,” da Silva said.
© 2013 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved
A starving Somali child leans against a wall in port Mogadishu December 6, 1992. Photo taken December 6, 1992. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis.