Droughts are common in the sub-Saharan regions, but only rarely produce a famine. Somalia did experience severe draughts in 1975 and 1982 which did not lead to widespread famine. Well-organized national and international efforts prevented such humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately the Somali nation and its state structures have been devastated by a civil war since 1991.
Somalia’s last major famine was in 1992 and was not caused by drought.
The epicenter of that famine was in Bay, one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions, and starvation was induced by warlords who used food as a weapon against farmers and pastoralists. This has led to a U.S.-led military intervention which ended in the disaster depicted in the film Black Hawk Down. After the U.S. withdrawal, the country descended into a state of lawlessness and the warlords reigned supreme.
The Somali population became vulnerable to natural disturbances because of the unstable political and military situation in the country. Such instability gave the U.S. the alarm bells that Somalia was declared to be in the front of the “War on Terror.” Any Somali group with the slightest hint of Islamic leanings was designated a terrorist. Thus, in 1996, when the Somali Islamic Courts movement took control of the capital Mogadishu, and brought peace and order not seen since 1991, the U.S. moved quickly. The new regime was unseated by unlawful invasion of the Ethiopian army with the express blessing of the U.S. government. The invasion resulted in further devastation of the Somali nation and its foundations. The ongoing confrontation between the U.S. and the local militias have created circumstances in which local food resources are exhausted and assistance from outside is denied or delayed until tens of thousands of innocent lives are lost. The world community has to come to grips with the ugly reality that is there for all to see.
Sending aid by airplanes is not sufficient to stem the crisis in any meaningful way.
The situation demands massive humanitarian, political and military efforts not only to end the famine, but also to enable Somalia to stand on its feet once again. If the 1995 Rwandan genocide has taught the international community a valuable lesson, it is that carelessness and indifference will not make the problem go away. Rather, a manageable crisis will metamorphose into a humanitarian disaster. We can only hope that Somalia will not be another black mark on the world’s conscious.
Malcolm H. Zoraik