Famine in Somalia – from worst to better

ICRC convoys brave flooded rivers and crocodiles to deliver food.

By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
December 19, 2011 20:25
Al-Shabaab fighter at  food distribution camp

Al-Shabaab fighter at food distribution camp Somalia 31 (R). (photo credit: Feisal Omar / Reuters)

Braving crocodiles, rivers of mud and Al-Shabaab rebels, food convoys of the International Committee of the Red Cross have completed their distribution of emergency rations to nearly one million Somalis aimed to tide them over until harvest season.

“Boats were used to take the food to pre-deployment sites in the Jubas,” said Andrea Heath, who is in charge of the ICRC's economic-security activities in Somalia. “The presence of crocodiles was another challenge. For three weeks in late October and early November, several trucks were regularly stuck in the mud on their way to Gedo, Bakool and the Jubas.”

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Those provinces alone are home to more than 350,000 people. The long awaited, but torrential rainfall that has hit Somalia may be a blessing to the farmers, but it has turned the roads to mud making it nearly impossible to travel and deliver food aid.

The ICRC aid came as the United Nations launched an appeal to raise $1.5 billion for life-saving projects in Somalia to address famine. This sum is 50% higher than last year and reflects the growing humanitarian crisis in east Africa.

Yves van Loo, a representative of the ICRC who was in Mogadishu until last Friday helping with the food distribution, told The Media Line of the challenges they and their crews faced distributing the food. There were even cases when crocodiles swarmed near trucks stuck in rivers, he said. 

“Isn’t it crazy? I was amazed by it. We had truck drivers stuck in the mud, and they did not dare leave their cabins because of the crocs,” Loo said. 

Loo said the ICRC avoided the use of the word “famine” to describe malnutrition among the 4 million Somalis since the word has no standard definition among organizations and “opens a political debate.”

“What is for sure is that many people are hungry. How many are affected is difficult to say but we have tried to feed a million people,” Loo said.

Together with the Somali Red Crescent Society, the ICRC has distributed since mid-October beans, rice and oil to over 917,000 people in southern and central Somalia. Each family receives some 50 kg of rice, 25 kg of beans and 10 liters of oil which is expected to help the farmers bridge the gap until late January when they expect to start harvesting their crops.

Aid work in one of the most failed states in the world has seen ICRC able to maneuver into areas held by Al-Shabaab Islamists who only last summer agreed to lift a ban on humanitarian aid in areas they controlled because of the dire situation.

Most of the food distribution was in areas controlled by Al-Shabaab. Loo said that the ICRC was adamant that their food distribution remain independent and while they coordinate with the Al-Shabaab, they do not want their escort.

“We do not want the Al-Shabaab to tell us what to do. We seek their green light and when it is given, we provide them with all the details of the distribution, but do it alone,” Loo said.

In any case, ICRC officials said they were keen on not just feeding the Somalis, but also helping them help themselves by providing farmers with seed and agricultural tools to prevent future malnutrition.

“We are changing them on an individual basis and helping them live without these food distributions. Most of our activities are focusing on sustainable programs and our clinics are pushing farmers to produce more. This emergency food distribution is a short-term emergency activity,” Loo said.

According to the ICRC, the farmers in Somalia were given seeds to grow green peppers, onions, Swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelon, carrots and maize.

Somalia is synonymous with crisis in Africa and fighting has erupted in the southern and central provinces causing a new wave of refugees. In Mogadishu, bombings and attacks have become more frequent. In addition to the food supplies, the ICRC also provides medical supplies and its clinics have seen about a quarter of a million patients since September.

Meanwhile, the UN coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden last week appealed to donors for $1.5 billion in aid for the upcoming year. The consolidated appeal process (CAP) is expected to fund some 350 projects to help the growing number of needy. At the beginning of 2011, 2.4 million Somalis were in need of aid. Within months, that number had almost doubled to four million.

"With the humanitarian situation expected to remain critical well into next year, early and full funding for the CAP 2012 is essential," Bowden said in a press release. "This life-saving plan will only be achieved if donors pledge and commit early."

But Somalia’s prime minister refuted the claims of famine. In an interview with The Telegraph, Abdiweli Mohammed Ali, ridiculed the world’s aid agencies for becoming “lords of poverty.”

 “I don’t believe there’s a famine in Mogadishu. Absolutely no. You know the aid agencies became an entrenched interest group and they say all kind of things that they want to say,” Ali was quoted as saying.

Kiki Gbeho, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), said the size of the 2012 CAP reflected the unprecedented scale of the emergency. The 2011 CAP was $1billion.

The top state donors for last year's CAP were the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia. One of the main external contributors was the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), which provided 16% of non-CAP funds.


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