The prospects for those affected by famine in the Horn of Africa are bleak. Britain is leading the way with foreign aid; other countries and their relief agencies are sitting on their hands. We must ensure the aid gets to those who need it, writes Harry Raffal.
The humanitarian crisis is worsening in the Horn of Africa after the worst drought in Africa in half a century. On the 20th of July the UN officially declared famine in two southern Somalia regions stating that “Given the combination of severity and geographic scope this is the most severe food security crisis in Africa since the 1991-2 Somalia famine.” The situation in Somalia is likely to see famine grasp the rest of the country within two months unless the militant Islamist al-Shebab actively co-operate with relief agencies. Currently the UN estimates 3.7 Million people face a food crisis in Somalia and the situation is likely to worsen unless non-government organizations can effectively operate within the country. Other countries in the Horn of Africa are also suffering but it’s important to consider what the aid we’ll be sending will achieve in Somalia where the majority may well end up.
So far the British Government has now pledged £90 million in aid with donations from the general public over £24 million. In total two of every one pound so far pledged to aid the crisis in the Horn of Africa has come from Britain with the rest of the world providing some £40 million. Currently Britain is taking the lead in this crisis, a fact the Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell seemed to revel in when interviewed on the BBC. Our actions are as creditable as the lack of aid from France, Italy, Denmark and other major European countries are contemptible. But what will we ultimately achieve by providing aid to Somalia? For most there is no denying the fact that millions of lives are at risk in Somalia if we do not act. However, al-Shebab has now labeled the claims of famine “sheer propaganda” and has denied that it has lifted its ban on Western aid agencies. This is a worrying development if aid is to be delivered rapidly to the worst affected areas in South Somalia.
It is tempting to hope that the vastly rich gulf states and the Red Crescent will lead relief work in Somalia. Unfortunately, at present, this seems unlikely. If it fall upon the West to alleviate this famine we should do so with a clear and rational policy about how we want to stabilize the region in the next decade. Unlike the early 1990s when the US was drawn into Somalia the current internal situation provides the opportunity for the West to establish meaningful security in Somalia if there is the will to do so. Whilst al-Shebab is the biggest threat in Somalia is may also be our great opportunity because it has finally unified the various tribal leaders of Somalia into a group which we can co-operate with and supply. The recalcitrance of al-Shebab is a blessing if seen in this light because it means we’re faced with either operating without them and, if necessary, UN and African Union forces operating in the country or refusing to waste aid money.
The worse thing we could do would be to give aid without being able to ensure it will reach its intended destination. It is also possible that a clear line against al-Shebab will prompt Saudi Arabia to become heavily involved in providing aid for refugees and those caught up in Somalia. Given the Saudis have spent millions in aid to Somalia war lords but little in direct aid to the people of Somalia, because of its fear of a Somalia controlled by a group closely aligned with Iran, it is possible that they could be encouraged to take a pro-active role if we can convince them it would produce a more stable state. Regrettably this is only likely to be the case if the U.S. decides to exert its influence and becomes heavily involved in the aid work itself.
More likely is Britain will send many more millions in aid, whilst those with a more natural moral obligation sit on their hands. Millions in the Horn of Africa will die, particularly if we merely provide aid and leave the present level of African Union forces in Mogadishu.