Wasting Away

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Death has two faces in Somalia these days. If famine doesn’t claim one’s life in the war-torn nation on the Horn of Africa, then Islamic militants might.

Drought has brought Somalia to the precipice of its worst famine in 40 years. More than 7.1 million people, or around half the population, face starvation. At least 330,000 children require “life-saving treatment for severe wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition,” according to ReliefWeb. In 2011, when Somalia last faced widespread food and water shortages, around 190,000 children required the same treatment.

Climate change is one cause of the crisis, aid officials say. Rain has become increasingly infrequent in the last decade. When it rains, floods occur. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine is worsening the crisis, Time reported. Somalia imported 90 percent of its grain from Russia and Ukraine in 2020. Fighting between the two countries has cut off grain exports and caused the price of global agricultural commodities to soar.

Musician Bob Geldof, who famously organized humanitarian rock concerts in the 1980s to address famine in the Horn of Africa, compared the disaster to the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. In the Financial Times, meanwhile, Irish correspondent Jude Webber noted an unfortunate dimension to the Irish suffering that was also occurring in Somalia – political instability.

For while Britain sent £7 million to Ireland between 1845 and 1852 to alleviate hunger in Ireland, which was then a colony, politicians in Westminster also appropriated £10 million for military forces who were maintaining the peace on the island.

Similarly, as Somali officials struggle to obtain more food aid from the international community, they are also fighting a 30-year-old civil war. To that end, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in May, recently asked the United Nations to lift an arms embargo on his country, wrote the East African, a Kenyan newspaper.

Mohamud’s move reflects the situation on the ground. Al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda that has been rampaging around Somalia for years, recently attacked a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. As the Associated Press explained, the militants barricaded themselves in the hotel for 35 hours, killing 21 people – some of whom were dismembered.

After the militants were dislodged, Mohamud vowed “total war” against them, saying Somali forces had to root them out once and for all.

But Mohamud has also said he will talk to the militants after defeating them, the Economist added. He even recently appointed a former al-Shabab spokesman as his religious affairs minister, Deutsche Welle reported.

Regaining control and stability in Somalia is certainly important. But one has to wonder whether a starving child cares.

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