A nation scarred by on going civil war and the continued absence of a central government, Somalia was left with the label of a failed nation. When one of the worst famines in two decades struck earlier last year, further insecurity was created in an already struggling state. Competition between warring clans for limited food resources, and increasing internal violence ensued. In this blog we will look at the effects violent conflict has on aid distribution in times of extreme famine.
The Charter to End Extreme Hunger clearly outlines the commitment to providing security for the most vulnerable in regions experiencing such turmoil as Somalia. “We commit to press for, and support, practical measures to protect people affected by conflict, including more vigorous and sustained diplomatic engagement to help all parties involved to local and national conflicts find just, sustainable, and secure solutions.” However, the urgent need of reinstating a legitimate central government and tackling the brutal cycle of conflict is evident.
The militant Islamic group Al Shabaab, who control much of southern Somalia, have been a major obstacle for relief efforts in the region. The group’s activities have involved kidnapping and killing many humanitarian workers. Al Shabaab have even issued bans on various aid agencies - such as the UN World Food Programme in 2009. The damage of such actions is plain to see; it is extremely counterproductive to the relief effort and dramatically slows down aid distribution. This is particularly dangerous given the scale of the crisis, and the initial slow international response to the famine. The kind of intimidation and violence used by the group only serves to exacerbate a desperate situation. It detracts attention away from those 4 million vulnerable people in the country who are still lacking food security.
For Al Shabaab, the war is clearly an ideological one. Their attitudes towards foreign aid agencies reveal a deep-rooted paranoia about the West: the ‘enemies of Islam’. The radical Islamic group are worried about foreign NGOs coming into Somalia with the aim of luring people away and converting them to Christianity. Remarkably, in July last year, Al Shabaab issued a ban on samosas in the region, fearing the snack too Christian due to its triangular shape! The paranoia, hostility and lack of cooperation during times of famine, will inevitably work against bringing stability to southern Somalia.
With threat of starvation and the raging internal conflict, vast amounts of the population have fled into neighbouring countries. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at the end of July 2011 there were around 1.46 million internally displaced people, 6,900 asylum-seekers and 1,965 refugees in Somalia. Kenya has felt the greatest pressure, as they are currently host to one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
It has long been in Kenya’s interest to break Al Shabaab’s hold on southern Somalia. From October last year, there has been a collective effort from Ethiopian, Somali, Kenyan and African Union soldiers against Al Shabaab militants. In that time significant advances have been made. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have pushed through into the state capital Mogadishu for the first time. East African nations have been urging the UN Security Council to authorise an increase in the number of AMISOM troops to 17,000.
Violence brought about by warring armed militant groups will only ever work counter to relief efforts. Armed conflict in times of famine is truly ‘development in reverse’. Their removal will ultimately lead to a smoother relief effort during this famine, and the famines ahead.