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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Somalia worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, U.N. Says

As Somali Crisis Swells, Experts See a Void in Aid By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN NYT: November 20, 2007
AFGOOYE, Somalia, Nov. 19 — The worst humanitarian crisis in Africa may not be unfolding in Darfur, but here, along a 20-mile strip of busted-up asphalt, several top United Nations officials said. A year ago, the road between the market town of Afgooye and the capital of Mogadishu was just another typical Somali byway, lined with overgrown cactuses and the occasional bullet-riddled building. Now it is a corridor teeming with misery, with 200,000 recently displaced people crammed into swelling camps that are rapidly running out of food.
Natheefa Ali, who trudged up this road a week ago to escape the bloodbath that Mogadishu has turned into, said Monday that her 10-month-old baby was so malnourished she could not swallow.
“Look,” Ms. Natheefa said, pointing to her daughter’s splotchy legs, “her skin is falling off, too.”
Top United Nations officials who specialize in Somalia said the country had higher malnutrition rates, more current bloodshed and fewer aid workers than Darfur, which is often publicized as the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis and has taken clear priority in terms of getting peacekeepers and aid money.
The relentless urban combat in Mogadishu, between an unpopular transitional government — installed partially with American help — and a determined Islamist insurgency, has driven waves of desperate people up the Afgooye road, where more than 70 camps of twigs and plastic have popped up seemingly overnight.
The people here are hungry, exposed, sick and dying. And the few aid organizations willing to brave a lawless, notoriously dangerous environment cannot keep up with their needs, like providing milk to the thousands of babies with fading heartbeats and bulging eyes. “Many of these kids are going to die,” said Eric Laroche, the head of United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia. “We don’t have the capacity to reach them.”
He added: “If this were happening in Darfur, there would be a big fuss. But Somalia has been a forgotten emergency for years.”
The officials working on Somalia are trying to draw more attention to the country’s plight, which they feel has fallen into Darfur’s shadow. They have recently organized several trips, including one on Monday, for journalists to see for themselves.
“The situation in Somalia is the worst on the continent,” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the top United Nations official for Somalia.
That situation has included floods, droughts, locusts, suicide bombers, roadside bombs and near-daily assassinations.
United Nations officials said the recent round of plagues, natural and man-made, coupled with the residual chaos that has consumed Somalia for more than a decade, have put the country on the brink of famine. In the worst-hit areas, like Afgooye, recent surveys indicate the malnutrition rate is 19 percent, compared with about 13 percent in Darfur; 15 percent is considered the emergency threshold.
The officials, in making the comparison, were not trying to diminish the problems in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died from violence and disease since 2003. But they said they were concerned that the crisis here was increasingly urgent.
Unlike Darfur, where the suffering is being eased by a billion-dollar aid operation and more than 10,000 aid workers, Somalia is still considered mostly a no-go zone. Just last week, a Somali aid worker and a guard were shot to death at an aid distribution center in Afgooye. United Nations officials estimate that total emergency aid is under $200 million, partly because it is so difficult just getting food into the country.
Pirates lurking off the coast of Somalia have attacked more than 20 ships this year, including two carrying United Nations food. The militias that rule the streets — typically teenage gunmen in wraparound sunglasses and flip-flops — have jacked up roadblock taxes to $400 per truck. The transitional government last month jailed a senior official of the United Nations food program in Somalia, accusing him of helping terrorists, though he was eventually released.
United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”
Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

1 comment:

  1. I am wondering were were the following support of the Islamic courts when Somalia was attacked, invaded and occupied. Did they thought things will be different than what they are witnessing today. I belief they should have been able to give support the Islamic courts and on the same time work with the
    Islamic courts in order to rectify the Islamic courts poor international politica; participation and assuring the international community that they are for peaceful purposes. The Problem was when nobody gave them chance and attacked them without assessing the facts in the ground and how they pacify the lawless capital in a matter of weeks. These type of statements would have been helpful then “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.” I think the above sort of statements are made now because the international community want to fund aid to Somalia so that this aid money can be further abused in a corrupted manner. Sorry Somalia and hope that the world will be just place one day.

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