Somalia – a failure of politics

By Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

Imagine walking from Belfast to Dublin or from Derry to Cork!
Imagine doing it in your bare feet.
Imagine walking in the scorching heat and with no water and food.
Imagine carrying your children and being forced to leave some of them lying dead at the side of the road because you haven’t the strength to dig a hole to bury them.
Imagine a landscape blasted by heat, with sparse vegetation and the rotting remains of cattle and other animals dead of thirst. A harsh and unforgiving countryside.
Imagine that those around you are empty eyed and gaunt, with swollen and
extended stomachs.

This is the reality of life and death for hundreds of thousands of men,
woman and children. It is the immediate future for millions more. It is
Somalia.

Famine is a terrible word. It conjures up frightening images and for
many in Ireland a folk memory of the Great Hunger of the 1840’s.

The Horn of Africa today, like much of Africa, is still conflicted by
the brutal legacy of colonisation. It is also caught up in the post 9-11
international conflict with Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Climate change may be playing its part but it is the decisions of past
colonial governments; and the policies being pursued by the
international community, and local indigenous governments, including a
Somali government whose remit extends only a few kilometres beyond
Mogadishu, which have created this crisis. Ultimately it is a failure of
politics.

No one will be surprised that the area worst affected correlate to those
which suffer entrenched deprivation and poverty and where there has been
an absence of investment in infrastructure – health programmes –
agricultural training – education for children and jobs.

Somalia, northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia are experiencing their
worst drought in 60 years. This has had a disastrous impact on the
largely pastoral and farming communities living in the affected area.

10 million people are affected by the famine. That is almost twice the
population of this island. It’s the first time in almost 20 years that
the word famine has been used to describe the conditions in Somalia.

Everyday hungry, thirsty, tired and emaciated figures make their way in
slow processions through a blistered, dying landscape toward hastily
erected refugee camps. Dadaab in Kenya has almost 400,000 people crammed
within its increasing boundaries. That’s more people than live in the
city of Belfast totally dependent on international aid.

The 4,000 people living in a refugee camp called ‘Safety’ on the
outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, have built their homes out of
plastic sheets wood and branches. People sleep on the ground.

The horror stories now being reported by the media tell the desperate
story of people on the edge of disaster. One report recorded the
experience of Amina who had walked 50 kilometres with her one and a half
year old son on her back only to discover when she arrived at ‘Safety’
that he was dead.

The UN defines famine as:

• More than 30% of children suffering from acute malnutrition

• Two adults or four children dying of hunger each day for every group
of 10,000 people

• The population must have less than 2100 calories of food each day.

In the famine affected areas of Bakool and Lower Shabelle the reality is
already far worse than this.

Aid is needed immediately. But the Norwegian attacks, which left over 90
dead and the death of Amy Winehouse have again pushed this issue off the
media agenda. This reduces the political momentum for the urgent
intervention that is essential to save lives.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the Islamist rebel group,
al-Shabaab, which controls much of the area affected, has denied lifting
a ban on some of the aid organisations and has rejected any suggestion
that there is a famine in the region.

The UN Food Agency is holding crisis talks on the issue in Rome and
there have been pledges of money for famine aid, but thus far it is
insufficient to meet the immediate needs of those millions at risk and
it is inadequate in building the necessary infrastructure to minimise
the threat of famine in the future.

More needs done and quickly.

For now there are a multitude of international aid organisations working
in the region. Among them are Irish organisations like Concern and Goal
and Trocaire. If you can donate check out their websites and do so.


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