Monday, April 26, 2010

Somalia: The humanitarian disaster that continues to be ignored

By Babukar Kashka
Republished courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NAIROBI (IDN) – Somalia is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, says the UN. No wonder: Of its 9.5 million inhabitants, a total of 1.4 million are internally displaced, over 570,000 are refugees dispersed in the region and nearly 3 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid, let alone the tens of thousands of civilians dead and injured.

This humanitarian disaster, which is tragically common to all war-torn countries and areas, continues to be ignored.

Apparently, the business of killing people is more interesting for politicians and more lucrative for marked-based economies than saving lives. It should suffice to remind that the world spends over 1 trillion dollars a year on its war machinery.

To quote Al-Jazeera's Andrew Wander, who reported on April 19, 2010: "Fighting, death and destruction on the streets of the Somali capital is nothing new; but now human rights groups are warning that civilian suffering is being fuelled by weapons shipments from the very countries that say they want to bring peace to Somalia."

The U.S. government shipped around 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition to the transitional government last year, including mortar rounds, in a bid to bolster its beleaguered position in the face of increasingly powerful armed opposition groups like Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, according to Wander's report.

"The U.S. believes the armed groups fighting to topple the government have ties to al-Qaeda and have been alarmed by their takeover of vast swathes of the country," he said. "But government forces, and the African Union troops who are tasked with supporting them, have used the weapons to commit what human rights groups say are clear breaches of the laws of war."

All this leads to questions about the value of statements by representatives of world bodies, such as the one made by Melissa Fleming of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): "It is unacceptable that the conflict in Somalia continues to be conducted without respect for the safety of civilians and in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles."

Equally questionable in terms of its effectiveness is the call issued by UNHCR urging parties to the conflict to avoid targeting civilian facilities and heavily populated areas of Somali capital, Mogadishu, which already shelter more than 300,000 internally displaced people (IDPs).

For instance, has the international community reacted so far to the fact that more than 100,000 people have been displaced from or within Mogadishu since the beginning of 2010?


Fleming, the UNHCR spokesperson, noted that persistent fighting and generalised violence make it "dangerous and difficult for aid agencies to access and provide humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable and needy".

Local sources told UNHCR that medical facilities are having difficulties coping with the many wounded in the fighting in Mogadishu.

Conditions are especially dangerous for pregnant women and infants. Some 1,400 women die per every 100,000 live births, and at least 86 out of 1,000 infants die before reaching their first birthday.

Children under five years of age accounted for 10 per cent of the reported injuries, which included shrapnel and gunshot wounds, fractures and crush injuries.

The continued fighting and lack of resources has strained the health-care system, as health workers are among the casualties of the violence, while others have fled the city.


For its part, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners are seeking 46 million dollars in the 2010 Consolidated Appeals Process for Somalia, to support further training, provide essential medical supplies, undertake monitoring and assess the health situation on the ground. As of February 2010, the appeal was only 8 per cent funded.

On top of all this, the UN reported that part of its food aid to Somalia ends in the hands of the so-called 'war-lords' and local contractors who deliver their profits – or the aid itself – to armed factions, thus fuelling the armed conflict.

"A handful of Somali contractors for aid agencies have formed a cartel and become important power-brokers, some of whom channel their profits, or the aid itself, directly to armed opposition groups," UN Security Council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia reported.

In its report, released on March 17, 2010, the UN group of experts points out the Adaani family, one of the three largest contractors for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia, has "long been a financier of armed groups", and maintains ties with Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the militia coalition Hizbul Islam.

For its part, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on March 12 that insurgents disrupted food aid deliveries bound for five sites in Mogadishu as part of a WFP feeding scheme.

"Two trucks were seized on March 6, but were released the next day, thanks to the intervention of elders. Three out of the five sites received their rations, and once the security situation improves, it is hoped that the remaining two sites – feeding 10,000 people – will be able to carry out their work," OCHA reported.

The report also cautioned against the increasing involvement of Somalia's immediate neighbours, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, which "are militarily involved in the conflict or plan to become involved in the coming months”.

"Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers, and an environment within which WFP has to constantly adjust and revise its operations," according to the UN.

In early 2010, WFP was forced to suspend food assistance in southern Somalia due to growing insecurity and threats and unacceptable demands from armed groups in the region.


Meanwhile, there is growing anxiety in Nairobi about the mounting waves of refugees from Somalia. In fact, Kenya has witnessed an influx of these refugees, with 10,000 new Somali refugees having been registered in the first nine weeks of 2010 alone.

In this regard, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) fears that the Dabaab refugee complex in northern Kenya, already home to 270,000 refugees, could see a spike in arrivals, according to its spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

Although food and livestock production in the southern part of Somalia have improved leading to a reduction in the number of people in need of food assistance, WFP is "extremely concerned about the welfare of people in this region we know to be in need of assistance".

Ongoing drought and civil unrest in central Somalia has left 70 percent of the population in the region in need of humanitarian assistance.

Six consecutive seasons of below-average rainfall have decimated livestock herds and forced many pastoralists to gather in towns and villages in search of assistance.

Deepening drought in northern Somalia is also now of particular concern, with nearly 300,000 people in need of assistance.

And one in six Somali children is acutely malnourished – a total of some 240,000 children – the highest acute malnutrition rates anywhere in the world. But does anybody care?

See also Sydney Irresistible and Mike Hitchen Unleashed
Putting principles before profits