Harrowing images of starving Somalis are reminiscent of the 1984 famine that left one million Ethiopians dead. There are reports of women walking for up to four weeks, without food and water, from Somalia to refugee camps in northern Kenya only to watch their children die from exhaustion, thirst and malnutrition. Images of emaciated children with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes looking at their mothers for help they can’t provide are heart-wrenching. The drought and famine are made worse in Somalia by the civil war, but also threaten lives in other countries of East Africa.
Two months ago the UN worried that Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia would suffer famine following a two-year drought, food shortages and escalating food prices. This week, the UN has declared famine in southern Somalia. According to the Washington Post:
This time, the famine is unfolding in the southern Somali regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, which are largely controlled by al-Shabab. Bowden said that nearly half of Somalia’s 3.7 million people face hunger, malnutrition and other related problems. Of those, 2.8 million live in the south.
In Kenya and Ethiopia, eight million people are also at risk. Is this response, by the international community and local governments, too little, too late?
Today, the UN estimates that one billion dollars are needed to get water, food and shelter to parts of East Africa affected by the drought and famine. In Somalia, aid agencies face the threat of al Shabaab, a militant terror group, that in 2009, banned aid agencies, including the United Nations, from entry into Somalia, claiming they were political.
A Minnesota woman spoke to the Daily Planet on condition of anonymity, for fear of Al Shabaab’s knowledge of her whereabouts. “Due to my safety,” she said, “I am not really publicising my travel, but this trip to Somalia was supposed to be a personal vacation to visit family.” However, when the news of the drought coincided with her travel plans, her friends raised funds so that she could buy food and water and distribute them directly to famine-stricken Somalis. “Al Shabaab are everywhere in Somalia and I am a little bit scared,” she said before leaving for her homeland.
Proceeds from the event below will be sent directly to individuals at refugee camps (contact: Amina Harun email@example.com)
U2 and Bono?
According to community organizer Nimco Ahmed, rock band U2 will endorse the Neighbors for Nations Somali relief initiatives during its concert at the TCF stadium Saturday evening. Ahmed says that Bono and other band members will meet with members of the Minnesota Somali community to discuss fundraising strategies. It is yet to be confirmed what the band will pledge toward famine relief.
Organizations Fundraising for the East African Famine
In Minnesota, several relief agencies have begun raising money. Last month, the Daily Planet reported on a new program by the Minnesota-based American Refugee Committee (ARC) which was setting up camp in northern Somalia. ARC’s president Daniel Wordsworth explained the move to northern Somalia “regions, like Puntland and Somaliland, are “relatively stable.” However, with the current famine crisis, ARC is fundraising towards famine relief in the south.
According to Said Sheik-Abdi who runs ARC’s Neighbors for Nations program: “We are dealing with this emergency. We have staff on the ground finding the best way to respond.” As dire as the situation is for people reaching refugee camps, Sheik-Abdi says “at least they have clean water, food, safety and shelter.”
“We need to reach the millions of people within the Somali border who need emergency assistance.”
Sheik-Abdi laments the international response “There is no cluster of organizations working together toward this. There has been no concerted effort to pull together varied expertise.”
Mohamed Idris, the executive of Minnesota-based ARAHA (American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa) agrees. “Three weeks ago, our office in Mogadishu, sent a financial appeal as they saw thousands of starving people walk into the city from other town and cities in Somalia.” The ten year old relief agency says it has limited resources, but is doing everything to provide in the region: “So far we have distributed food baskets to 600 families.”
Idris also says he would like to see larger community initiatives. Looking back on the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, he said, “hopefully we will not reach that level and have that many casualties.”
A local Somali activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “I know a lot of people in the Somali community are confused and frustrated with some agencies talking with a AWFUL resistance and others working with a regime they deem corrupt/inefficient, but it’s tough because these are the only structures in the country. I hope (and I imagine) that both ARC and ARAHA have made great pathways with civil society groups on the ground and/or have hired locals to help provide relief more quickly and efficiently.”
Security concerns are not the only considerations in deciding what organizations to donate to. Minneapolis resident Amina Harun is concerned that with organizational bureaucracy money is not available for famine relief as fast as she would like it to be. “NGOs take time to disburse funds to people who need it immediately,” she said.
“It broke my heart when I heard from someone in Somalia that there are people who have not seen food for twenty five days,” she says.
Harun’s solution is two-fold: first, identify people within the refugee camp who can receive money and buy food and water to distribute to those most in need, “The reality is that they need more than those relief packets they get from NGOs. They need vegetables, meat and milk.” Secondly, as more people are made aware of the famine, Harun suggests that they adopt a family and send money directly to them for food and shelter.