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Crisis in Somalia

July 29th, 2011

photo credit: Robin Hammond/Panos

Crisis in Somalia

July 28, 2011 — This is a news story that is hard for even many grown-ups to understand, partly because the situation described below is so sad; partly because the number of people involved is so great, and partly because it is happening very far away.  Since most of us haven’t experienced anything like a famine — when people die of hunger — it is also very hard to imagine. But we can try. And we can help.

Right now, in parts of an Eastern African country called Somalia, there isn’t enough food for millions of people to survive. One-third of the population is facing starvation, many of them are children. More than 11 million people across the Horn of Africa are in need of emergency aid. Many have had little to no food to eat for months and are becoming very sick. They need food and medical attention immediately.  For too many, it is already too late.

In parts of Somalia, there hasn’t been enough rain for almost two years to properly grow crops for food to eat, or have water for drinking. This is called a drought. It hasn’t been this dry in some areas for 60 years and the next forecast for rain is 4 months from now.

Many Somalis don’t have enough money to buy food for their families. And Somalia’s government isn’t stable enough to help them, or to stop rebel soldiers from looting valuables, like food. The rebels also prevent those who want to help from getting access to those who need it.

Tens of thousands of people have decided to leave their homes behind to walk in search of help. The Irish Times reported this week that one mother named Ayan had walked for ten days with her six children. They all had very little rest because they had to avoid bandits and wild animals along the way and her six-month old baby cried constantly from hunger.

Families like Ayan’s are gathering in places called “refugee camps” in Mogadishu (the capital of Somalia), and near the border of neighboring countries Kenya and Ethiopia. But there are so many people coming that camps are filling up completely and overflowing.  In some cases, temporary shelters are constructed from tree branches while people wait for a proper tent – sometimes over 2 months.

The camp in Dadaab, Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world, designed to shelter 90,000 people. Right now, there are almost 400,000 people there — more than the population of some cities — and about 1,500 new people are estimated to arrive every day. They need supplies and the helping “aid” organizations need money to get them.

photo credit: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

While aid organizations are rushing to bring food, medicine, workers and supplies to help, governments from around the world, including the United States, are donating many millions of dollars. But an estimated $1.6 billion is needed.  Mark Bowden, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia said, “There’s no doubt that lives have been lost, but there are many, many more that will be saved if the world responds as it must.”

Children’s Q & A with HTE World & Politics Editor, Lukas Haynes

Why can’t we send our food to help and why can’t aid workers just bring in all the food that’s needed by helicopter?

Sending food is a good and natural instinct, but it is impractial for a few reasons. First, most of the food we have in our cupboards is inappropriate for people with severe malnutrition and hunger. It could actually make them sick. Second, flying cans of food all the way around the world is a heavy load and very expensive. That is why most food is shipped in bags and from warehouses close to Somalia. Finally, the aid agencies don’t have enough helicopters — which are very expensive — in all of East Africa to deliver the supplies that are needed, and it can be a dangerous way to deliver supplies.

Why can’t they build a big pipeline to bring water in?

Pipelines are among the biggest and most expensive construction projects in the world. The governments of East Africa have not invested in such projects and large bodies of fresh water are scarce.

Why can’t they just move everyone to places where there is enough food?

No one has a choice over where they are born and most people on Earth don’t have a choice of where they can live. They don’t have the money, job opportunities or ways to transport themselves to places we are familiar with that have abundant food and water.

There are agreements between countries that do permit and assist with relocation, but not usually for such a large population as those affected by the famine in Somalia.

What is the best way that children far away can help?

You can write to your government to tell them that you care and encourage them to send money. You can also help. If every American found a dollar tomorrow to help Somalis in need, hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved.  And money really is the best kind of support, rather than food or clothes, to send aid organizations. They use it to deliver what is needed more efficiently.

* Lukas worked in West Africa for the aid agency OXFAM from 1996-1997.

If you would like to help, here are a few ways how to (click on the links):

Doctors Without Borders


World Food Programme



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18 Comments on “Crisis in Somalia”

  • Esther says:

    The questions posed and answered are the very same my 9 year-old asked. Thank you for giving parents the language to have these difficult discussions with their kids. The charity links are also a helpful reference piece. I am sure kids all over the world are planning their bake sales!

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