Somalia: No Water. No Solution.

By: /
12 July, 2011
By: André Pratte
Editorial Pages Editor (Éditorialiste en chef) at La Presse

The Horn of Africa, especially war-torn Somalia, is again the scene of a humanitarian tragedy. The two last rain seasons have failed. Already extremely poor, peasants cannot grow anything. Their animals have died of thirst. Food prices have spiked. Thousands have no choice but to walk for days in the scorching heat in the hope of reaching one of the refugee camps set up in neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia. Some die en route, including infants. The camps are now overflowing and the aid organizations lack the means to help all those who arrive.

Another tragedy in Africa’s sad history. How come? Haven’t we (the rich countries) spent billions to try and pull the black continent out of its poverty? Yes we have spent a lot of money. A lot of goodwill also. In 2000, the international community agreed to reach eight “Millennium Goals” by 2015. In 2001, the African Union adopted a New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The NEPAD stated that democracy and respect for human rights were crucial if Africa was to prosper. In 2002, that approach was endorsed by the members of the G8 at Kananaskis, under the leadership of Jean Chrétien.  Did all this diplomatic and political activity achieve anything? Apparently, it did. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence: since the beginning of the 21st century, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen its GDP grow by about 6% a year. Of course, the region was not immune to the global recession. But it climbed out of the crisis relatively early. Reasonable growth rates are expected in 2011.

But Somalia is one of the exceptions that confirm the rule. The country is incredibly poor. It has no effective government. The 20-year-long civil war has forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes.

A sense of despair invades me when I look at these pictures of rachitic babies dying in their mother’s arms. Of course, I’ll send money to the Humanitarian Coalition formed by Canadian aid organizations. But will it reach the people who need it or will it be stolen by corrupt contractors and radical rebels, like what was revealed last year about the UN World Food Program’s activities there?

For years, international aid organizations have worked hard to learn from their mistakes, have adjusted programs to local situations, have tried to act before the droughts become famines. Apparently to little avail, at least in Somalia.

Still, we have to do something. I hope governments will realize that this is not the “usual” humanitarian tragedy. By the way, we still have not heard the voice of Canada…

According to many witnesses on the ground, this drought is the worst this martyr region has known in the last 60 years. Interviewed by The Independent’s Matt Croucher, Save the Children‘s emergency manager for East Africa, explained: “Thousands of children could starve if we don’t get life-saving help to them fast. Parents no longer have any way to feed their children; they’ve lost their animals, their wells have dried up and food is too expensive. We can stop this tragedy unfolding, but we only have half the money we need.”

UNICEF says 2 million children under the age of 5 are suffering from malnutrition.  In one camp, 60 babies die each day. Sixty babies dead, each day…

I wonder if the Western democracies’ efforts are aimed at the right goals. Could the money we spend in Libya, for instance, be more useful in the Horn of Africa? Or is the situation in Somalia so desperate that there is nothing more we can do, besides sending aid to alleviate the thirst and hunger of those who are lucky enough to reach the camps? And hope that one day, in the spirit of the NEPAD, the Somalians will decide to take their destiny into their own hands?

Photo courtesy Reuters.

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