Pictures of Somalian Devastation: Hunger, War and Drought
"Somalia is suffering its worst drought and famine in 60 years. Getting aid to the country has been difficult because al-Qaida-linked militants control much of the country’s most desperate areas.The U.N.’s food arm said that famine is likely to spread across all regions of Somalia’s south in the next four to six weeks. Famine conditions are likely to persist until December, the Food and Agriculture Organization said.Across Somalia, 3.7 million people are in crisis, the U.N. says, out of a population of 7.5 million. The U.N. says 3.2 million are in need of immediate, lifesaving assistance." - Denver Post
credit: (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
Africa Should Come to the Aid of Somalis - Applying the AU's Principle of Non-Indifference
The Horn of Africa is hit by one of the worst droughts in more than 60 years. While there are more than 12 million people affected by the drought in the whole region, Somalia is the epicentre of what is described as the region's worst humanitarian crisis.
Almost 3.7 million Somalis, nearly half of Somalia's population, are in desperate need of emergency humanitarian assistance. While the drought has affected much of the country, famine has been declared in two regions of southern Somalia: southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle.
Since a few weeks ago, various institutions and news outlets have on a daily basis been reporting the heart-breaking experiences of many Somalis. Many have fled their homes to refugee camps in neighbouring countries. While some make it to the overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, often walking long distances for days and sometimes weeks, many others perish along the way from hunger and thirst. Even after making it to the refugee camps, there are those who succumbed before receiving the life-saving assistance. The devastation caused by the crisis is graphically highlighted by images of inhumanely malnourished children and very weak and often grieving women shaken by the drought and loss of their children and other family members.
Unfortunately, the crisis is expanding. The UN has revised its pronouncement on the severity of the crisis stating that all of South Somalia is slipping into famine. The level of the tragedy is almost overwhelming. Given the prevailing economic crisis in the world, the timing of the crisis cannot be any worse than it is. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently emphasised, there is a danger that humanity cannot meet all the needs. According to the UN, while the total amount of money needed for the emergency is about $1.6 billion, so far only half of this has been raised. Without raising the additional money and mobilising all the support that can be made available, the lives of many who can be saved will needlessly be lost.
With the lives of millions of people in danger and a huge gap in the available resources to respond to it, the impending catastrophe in Somalia cannot be averted without the mobilisation of all people all over the world. This means not only those who traditionally provide for humanitarian assistance but also all other members of the international community.
By any account this is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies unfolding on African soil. And, there is no other part of the world that needs to mobilise first than Africa. When the extent of the drought was declared, Africa was the least prepared and the least mobilized. It took several weeks before the African Union (AU) issued a press statement and started to try and mobilise assistance from within Africa.
The need for mobilising people and countries in Africa arise not just from the particular context of the crisis unfolding in Somalia. It also arises from the principles that African countries have subscribed to since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the AU.
When the AU was founded, it was premised on the principle of non-indifference. This principle promises to people in Africa that the AU will not standby and watch when people in Africa face a disaster. Unlike its predecessor the OAU, African ownership and leadership and intra-African solidarity are also amongst the major operational principles of the AU.
It is important to note that the principle of non-indifference is reflected in the normative framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Notwithstanding its focus on peace and security matters, the Protocol on the Peace and Security Council provides under Article 6 that one of the functions of the PSC relates to 'humanitarian action and disaster management.' Article 7 further provides that in conjunction with the Chairperson of the Commission, the PSC shall 'support and facilitate humanitarian action not only in situations of armed conflict but also major natural disasters. The AU is also running its major peace support operation, the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This makes its responsibility all the more onerous as an actor already on the ground, despite its limited mandate.
In the light of these commitments, for the AU and people on the continent, inaction in the face of such devastating tragedy would be both irresponsible and inexcusable. Indeed, there is not any other moment of need for Africa to show its solidarity with Somalis and apply these norms of non-indifference than this one.
Although the AU was slow in responding to the crisis for a whole range of understandable factors, it has since initiated a process for mobilising resources towards averting the catastrophe facing Somalia. On 12 July 2011, the AU issued a press statement for the first time on the subject. In that statement, the AU Commission Chairperson called on all AU member states to contribute in whatever way they can to the alleviation of the suffering of the affected populations. He also called on African humanitarian NGOs to contribute to the ongoing efforts. More concretely, the statement revealed that the chairperson of the Commission has directed AMISOM to continue doing everything in its powers to provide security for humanitarian personnel in Mogadishu, in order to facilitate access to those in need of food and other relief items. In an effort to provide leadership and mobilise assistance from within Africa, the Chairperson requested the AU High Representative for Somalia, former President of Ghana Jerry John Rawlings, to pursue and intensify his efforts aimed at sensitising African countries and mobilizing both financial and in kind support.
Since then, the matter has remained on the agenda of the highest decision-making bodies of the AU. At its 285th meeting held on 13 July 2011, the PSC was briefed by the Commissioner for Peace and Security and deliberated on the drought situation in Somalia and its humanitarian consequences. Consistent with and affirming the principles referred to above, the PSC, in a press statement after the meeting, stressed the need for African governments and peoples to fully mobilise themselves in support of, and solidarity with, the Somali people, in their critical hour of need. On the occasion of his visit to the country on July 29, the deputy chairperson reiterated the call for support from fellow Africans. In a show of the AU's resolve to make a meaningful contribution, he said that the AU has already contributed $500 000 to the relief effort. More significantly, the deputy chairperson announced the AU Commission is planning to hold a pledging conference on 9th August in Addis Ababa as part of its commitment to supporting those affected by the drought. This meeting has now been postponed for 'at least two weeks'.
It is encumbent on all African countries and peoples as part of their pledge of not being indifferent to the plight of fellow Africans to show their solidarity to the people of Somalia at this very desperate time of need. For this, the upcoming donors conference is a very opportune occasion. The AU in the meantime needs to develop an institutionalised mechanism that enables various actors on the continent to make their contributions. This may take the form of a high level ad hoc committee that will together with the AU high Representative for Somalia undertake missions to as many African countries as possible to raise financial and other assistance for Somalia.
Solomon A. Dersso is senior researcher, in the Peace and Security Council Report Programme in the ISS Addis Ababa Office.