A report released by the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on September 2nd provides a bleak outlook for Somalians facing famine and disease. According to the Somalia Food Security Nutritional Analysis Unit, all regions in the southern area of the country may soon face famine as the situation continues to worsen.
The UN report comes nearly two months after Antonio Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency, described the problems as the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world.” Mr. Guterres appealed for world support to alleviate the suffering of people in the region after visiting the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, which was home to more than 380,000 displaced refugees as of July, with thousands more showing up each week. Thousands more are crossing the border into Ethiopia each day, many having walked for several days. The UN estimates that up to 50% of children arriving at the camps are malnourished.
The famine is largely the result of the worst drought in Somalia in sixty years, with conditions further exacerbated by violence and political strife within the country. Relief efforts by the Somali government, the UN, and other aid groups have been complicated, and sometimes made impossible, by civil war within the nation and restricted access to some of the hardest hit areas. The al-Shabab militia, an armed Somali Islamist rebel organization with ties to al-Qaeda, has forced out many western aid organizations and blocked routes of displaced travelers seeking relief in the capital city, Mogadishu. “It is safe to say that many people are going to die as a result of little or no access [for aid groups],” says Eric James of the American Refugee Committee.
Over 12 million people throughout the Horn of Africa are affected by the drought and in need of assistance.
The leader of al-Shabab has announced, however, that the organization will continue to launch attacks on government troops and foreign peacekeepers and continue to constrain movement of those seeking to flee areas under the group’s control. Al-Shabab has also ignored pleas from Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali to stop engaging in conflicts with regional clans in central Somalia, where a recent clash resulted in at least thirty deaths with another 100 injured.
Further complicating relief efforts by Western organizations looking to help in the area is the US government’s classification of al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008. Such a classification makes it a crime to provide material assistance to the group, which aid officials claim has a chilling effect on relief organizations who are fearful of legal trouble resulting from aid money finding its way into al-Shabab hands.