Somalia: Security vacuum compounding effects of drought [Archives:2007/1019/Last Page]

January 25 2007

“Ten Stories the

World Should Hear More About”

In 2004, the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) launched an initiative called “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About” to draw attention to important international developments and issues that fall outside the media spotlight. The list includes stories on an array of issues and from several geographical regions. Some of the stories on the list focus on troubling humanitarian emergencies and conflict situations, but they also highlight such vital areas as human rights, health and development. Every issue, we will bring a new story to you, hoping that our little effort to advocate for human rights all over the world would make a difference, some how, some way he editor

Against the backdrop of a fragile peace process and encouraging prospects for reconciliation, the persistent insecurity in many parts of the country presents mounting challenges on the humanitarian front as Somalia struggles with the effects of its worst drought in a decade.

The Story

As United Nations aid agencies are sounding an alert about the Horn of Africa, where over 8 million people are in grave danger from a devastating drought, the situation in one of the affected countries, Somalia, remains of particular concern and in urgent need of special attention. Despite some recent progress towards reestablishing a central government, the persistent insecurity makes combating the effects of drought very difficult, further complicating political reconciliation and leaving Somalia especially vulnerable to renewed destabilization. The two elements – the political peace process on the one hand, and the precarious humanitarian situation on the other – present two different momentums, but they are interlinked, says Christian Balslev-Olesen, UN's Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. Somalia is facing the decade's most severe drought-related emergency, which is “coming on top of a situation where you already have all the most difficult indicators for human development,” Balslev-Olesen adds. In March, the UN Security Council expressed its growing concern over “severe livelihood distress and the rising civil and food insecurity” and urged all Somali leaders to ensure complete and unhindered humanitarian access, as well as provide guarantees for the safety of humanitarian aid workers.

Today, some 2.1 million Somalis are totally dependent on international aid. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the recent UN humanitarian appeal for the Horn of Africa ) $327 million out of a total of $426 million – is targeted for Somalia. Aid workers, however, face unique difficulties in reaching all those in need as they try to provide assistance amidst constant threats, piracy, abductions and roadblocks. Without help, the parched southern areas could see 10,000-12,000 human deaths each month, while up to 80 per cent of the nation's livestock could die. As food reserves diminish, requiring ever greater reliance on external aid, the competition for these scarce resources will grow, leading to increased inter- and intra-clan fighting, hijacking, looting of convoys, extortion and demands for “protection fees,” a recent UN report warned.

The Context

– Several years of successive rainfall failures have particularly affected pastoral and agro-pastoral communities that are being forced to travel vast distances to find grazing for their animals. Meanwhile, reduced agricultural production has led to a dramatic increase in the price of food commodities, particularly cereals.

– The 2.1 million people dependent on aid represent 25 per cent of the population and include 400,000 internally displaced persons, many of whom are at risk of dying of malnutrition if the crisis is not addressed. Families in some areas are spending 70 to 80 per cent of the little money they have just to buy water.

– There are over 1,000 national and international staff from all the UN agencies working in the country. However, there are no international personnel in the major cities of Mogadishu and Kismayu.

– Up to 80 per cent of schools in drought-affected areas are closed in a country where only 20 per cent of children have access to education under normal conditions.

– Security remains the greatest challenge to the Somali peace process. It also continues to impact on the dire humanitarian situation, worsened by the regional drought. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has made considerable progress in overcoming differences between the different Somali factions, however, several challenges could unravel the fragile peace process. Recent fighting in Mogadishu has deepened tensions, as has the presence of some armed militias in the vicinity of Baidoa, the temporary seat of government. The need to canton these groups and provide food, water and shelter for them, is being addressed by Somali leaders and the TFG with aid from donors.