Let Us Not Forget the Horn of Africa

Admittedly, there is currently a lot going on in the world. For example, many were recently shocked by the death of Amy Winehouse. At only 27 years of age, the world has lost yet another young singer to addiction, substance abuse and the pressures of the celebrity world (a media diagnosis).

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The crisis in East Africa should not be swept aside. Image: UNHCR/USAID from BBC News©

Despite her massive fan base and influence in the music industry, I think it is important that we do not let her death shadow some of the more globally severe issues that are currently unfolding by the minute. With the recent tragedy in Norway which resulted in the death of almost 100 people, the United States and Europe hitting the rocks financially, and the Murdoch Empire crumbling before our eyes, there is plenty to talk about.

However, something that has unfortunately started to lose attention and momentum is the crisis in East Africa – also referred to as the Horn of Africa. It is fundamental that we do not lose sight of arguably the world’s biggest crisis of the moment which is escalating in severity by the minute: a crisis that has been sparked by the repeated failure of seasonal rains to hit the Horn of Africa. Roy Greenslade recently wrote an interesting piece on the “Hierarchy of death” which failed to even mention this crisis.

Statistics are necessary to help contextualize the problem at hand. Currently, the whole of East Africa is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis because of the worst drought since 1995. However, some areas have been hit with their driest periods in over half a century. Josette Sheeran recently labeled the countries being affected by the crisis, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia, as the epicenter of famine as there are now over 11.6 million people in need of emergency relief. Although an official figure has not been released, the UN has estimated that tens of thousands of people have most likely already died so far.

Somalia has particularly struggled. The United Nations declared a famine in Somalia last week, the first African famine in three decades, and has estimated that 3.2 million people currently need urgent and life saving help. Furthermore, 800,000 children in Somalia have been diagnosed as acutely malnourished.

Nonetheless, what has exacerbated the problems in Somalia is its level of general instability. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda linked militia operating primarily in southern Somali regions, has made it extremely difficult for international aid workers to reach those living in the area. In fact, the militia has even denied that Somalia is suffering from devastation.

Al-Shabab has played a big part in this story of disaster. By barely allowing any Western aid agencies to operate in southern Somalia, where the two famine zones have been declared, the militia has influenced the role that Islamic organisations are to play in this crisis. Because Islamic organisations are currently more tolerated, Ban Ki-Moon had to personally telephone Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE asking for funds.

However, although Somalia is a renowned failed state, I feel compelled to mention that it seems there is barely any coverage on future hope the country has. The north, particularly areas like Somaliland and Puntland, is actually relatively stable. In fact, after meeting the president of Somaliland, William Hague commented “A glimpse of what Somalia could be – stability in the region is possible”.

Nevertheless, the question of aid, as always with crises of this scale, has been a focal point in East Africa. Quite shockingly, despite the £1bn of aid already received, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Lady Amos recently announced that another billion is needed over the next year with £180m of that being needed within the next three months. The UK has particularly been urging other nations to contribute.

The Department for International Development (DFID) should be credited with being particularly active in helping deal with this crisis. Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, has done fairly well with representing the UK in this matter. He has done so by keeping Parliament updated on the crisis, supporting appeals for East Africa (such as those launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC)), by continuing to urge other nations to step up their efforts (particularly in Somalia), talking to the Somali community in the UK, and most recently, by responding to the UN emergency meeting held four days ago.

Numerically, the work of the DFID and the British government regarding the present crisis has been clearly set out. Across the East African region, UK aid is delivering:

• Ethiopia: Food aid for 1.36 million people facing starvation, plus shelter, water and medical help for 100,000 people in the Dolo Ado refugee camps
• Somalia: Help for 500,000 people including food rations, treatment for malnourished children and farming supplies to help people grow food
• Kenya: Support for 300,000 people with treatment for malnourished children and mothers. In addition, we are helping 130,000 refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp with safe water, food and basic healthcare

Despite arguments that can be put forward about the ineffectiveness of international aid, I am struggling to see how the help given so far can be questioned. The money that has been put forward is going to help hundreds of thousands of men, women and children prevent the worst.

On a concluding note, it is important not to forget the crisis in the Horn of Africa and it is imperative that help does not stagnate.  For if it does, the long term effects, as always with crises like this, will be felt by many.

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About Zoe Lazaridis

I am currently a full time International Relations and Political Science student. Coming from a diverse background as a Greek-American who has lived in Greece, Germany, Belgium and, for the past 12 years, London, my exposure to various cultures and belief systems has broadened my perspective and pushed me towards a passion for global politics. I am particularly interested in topics such as gender development, conflict and peace studies and the identity and interests of the West. My other hobbies include music, mainly jazz and big band, travelling and writing.

Posted on August 1, 2011, in Comment, Foreign Affairs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I completely agree that the media is too celebrity obsessed – probably a reflection of what people want to read about.

    In addition, I think it’s also important to recognise that the constant £2/ month type adverts have desensitised the nation when it comes to a ‘biggy’ like the current African crisis.

  2. Thank you for bringing attention to this critical issue. Anyone who reads this article and is not moved to contribute in some way shape or form should not forget that if the shoe were on the other foot- you too would be waiting for help from those that can offer it. This situation is called dire and humanitarian spirit is a must. In these very uncertain time anyone could be next.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your article, a really interesting read. Well done.

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