Instruments Of Pain (III): Conflict And Famine In Somalia

Chronic conflict is preventing effective response to Somalia’s prolonged drought and humanitarian crisis. This special briefing, the third in a series of four examining the famine threats there and in Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria, urges Somalia to improve governance and promote countrywide clan reconciliation to end the war.

I.            Overview

History is at risk of tragically repeating itself. Once again, conflict-wracked Somalia is faced with mass hunger, just six years after a man-made famine took the lives of 250,000 people, mostly children, and 25 years after another killed 300,000, triggering a U.S. and UN intervention without which many more would have perished. An estimated 6.2 million people – half the country’s population – are in dire need; over three million are in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation, faced with death due to hunger and disease. While governmental and international responses have been relatively swift and relief efforts better coordinated (in part, because of lessons learned from the 2011 famine), many former limitations and challenges remain. Today, Somalis are starving because funding is insufficient and because access denial and insecurity impede delivery; most of all, they are starving because chronic conflict has destroyed their savings and ability to cope with periodic drought. The government and its international partners must tackle these immediate impediments and do more to stabilize the country lest yet another famine loom in the not-too-distant future.

As in 2011, the epicenter of the current humanitarian crisis is south-central Somalia where Al-Shabaab, a violent Islamist insurgency, and localized clan conflicts have compounded the drought’s impact, undermined subsistence farming and cereal production, and led to crippling inflation and skyrocketing food prices, as well as mass displacement. Pockets in northern Puntland and Somaliland have also been badly hit, though the situation is far less grim than in the south.

Greater international assistance is urgently needed but will not be enough. A central cause of the crisis is access restrictions, provoked all at once by Al-Shabaab-orchestrated violence and insecurity, increased numbers of checkpoints on major aid supply routes, bureaucratic impediments and hefty illicit fees that both limit reach and increase delivery costs. Muslim community leaders and clerics should seek to persuade Al-Shabaab to allow access to areas under its control. But access restrictions are also the work of clan militias and disgruntled government and federal state forces engaging in predatory behavior and routinely erecting barriers on major highways to extort money. The federal government and federal member states need, therefore, to pressure them too: through negotiations with clan militias if feasible, by considering military options to dismantle the checkpoints and provide armed escorts to relief convoys if necessary. And the federal government and federal member states should ease official impediments and red tape, which further constrain access. With a massive number of vulnerable people on the move in remote areas, the federal government and federal member states will need to do more to assist them and, in particular, curb rampant sexual violence in displaced peoples’ camps. These are all important steps, but to get beyond palliatives and find a more sustainable solution, the government will need to tackle the conflict itself, which remains the principal trigger and contributor to this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe: by improving governance; taking steps to address the division of power and resources among the central government and member states in a permanent constitution; and promoting countrywide clan reconciliation.

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