|Abdulle Ibrahim holds his severely malnourished 3-year-old son at a refugee camp clinic near the Kenya-Somalia border. (Reuters)|
SOMALIA’S WARLORDS are turning a food crisis into a full-blown catastrophe. The United Nations has been issuing alerts about food shortages, severe drought, and political unrest across the horn of Africa. But famine - defined by the UN as the point when over 30 percent of children under 5 suffer “acute malnutrition’’ - is only occurring in Somalia.
The reason is clear. The organization Al Shabab, Somalia’s affiliate of Al Qaeda, controls parts of the nation and is deliberately rejecting relief efforts. Claiming that reports of famine are merely Western propaganda, Al Shabab has refused to allow major nongovernmental organizations in. The UN’s World Food Program has no access to these regions, leaving most relief efforts to smaller organizations that must coordinate with local - probably criminal - partners.
Given that over 40 aid workers were killed in Somalia in 2008 and 2009, even these small organizations are reluctant to assist. As the crisis unfolds, it’s tragic that relief programs are now monitoring fewer, not more, Somalian refugees in aid camps; people may be too weak and sick to seek help anywhere.
However limited the options in Somalia, that tragedy should not deter government, private, and individual donors from continuing to support relief efforts throughout drought-stricken Africa. Other nations, and more accessible parts of Somalia, are benefiting immensely. As for Al Shabab, there is a justifiable movement within the UN to hold the group’s leaders accountable for crimes against humanity. Though the UN can’t verify everything that is going on in Somalia, the empty relief camps suggest that Al Shabab’s reign of terror is working.