A Look at the Famine Plaguing the Horn of Africa

October 5, 2011 By Adria Saracino

Can the world just stand by and watch as an estimated 750,000 Somalis starve to death in the coming months?

Ever since the Horn of Africa suffered two crippling droughts, first in fall 2010 and then again in the spring of this year, the region has experienced an extreme shortage of food. With the droughts came soaring food prices, and in a region where food has always been a precious resource, this meant devastating effects in some countries.

Somalia is suffering the most. The United Nations declared the country to be in a state of famine this past July. In order for famine to be officially declared, three criteria must be met: 1) at least 20% of households need to be facing a complete lack of food, 2) mortality must exceed 2 per 10,000 per day, and 3) acute malnutrition prevalence needs to exceed 30%.

Why is Somalia suffering the worst? While some may say the drought is the number one culprit, there are other factors that come into play. One huge factor is the political instability the country has experienced for the past twenty years.

This is not the first famine Somalia has experienced. In 1990 – 1991, a catastrophic famine hit the country, leaving over 240,000 Somalis dead. Political tensions were bubbling at the same time, and finally resulted in President Mohamed Siad Barre being overthrown.

Afterward, Civil War erupted as clans fought for power. The effects were crippling. It resulted in: over 1 million refugees, 5 million Somalis threatened by hunger and disease, and an estimated 350,000 Somalis dead as a result of the war and famine.

In 2006, an Islamic militant group, al-Shabab, took over the country. The group is said to be “one of Africa’s most fearsome militant Islamist groups,” and to this day it controls most of southern Somalia, the area most affected by the current famine. Al-Shabaab leaders have claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda, and have held a reign of terror over the Somali public by routinely chopping off hands, stoning people to death and banning TV, music and even bras.

Why are 750,000 Somalis estimated to die at the end of this year as a result of the 2011 famine, twice as many as the deaths in the 1991 famine? One main reason is that aid has been slow to reach the country. Aid agencies have been denied access to the heart of the famine, because the area was until recently controlled by al-Shabab. Western nations are wary of sending citizens into the fray, so Somalia’s pleas seem likely to go unanswered.

As a result of the slow aid response, over 13 million Somalis are displaced, either within Somalia or in Kenyan and Ethiopian refugee camps. The UN estimates it will need $2.4 billion in aid, yet it’s received only half from countries and organizations around the world.

While aid is slowing getting into Somalia after al-Shabab deserted the capital, the effects of the famine will still be felt well into 2012. Unless aid is received sooner, a quarter of a million Somalis will die by the end of the year.

Adria Saracino is the Blogging Coordinator for eLocal.com, a resource for consumers to find local businesses. 

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Famine in Somalia

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