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Associated Press/Photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh

Famine fables

In Somalia drought is not the only culprit

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

It's not accidental that the book of Deuteronomy (literally, a "copy of this law") retells for the Israelites what just happened to them. We so quickly overlook the lessons of history.

So as the newspapers and airwaves begin to report the tragic story of famine in Somalia, it's important to read these as Moses would, not as the Israelites, who got themselves stuck in the wilderness for 40 years because they refused to see their own role in their predicament.

The famine in Somalia is not, as most major news sources would have you believe, caused by drought. Agence France-Presse had Somalians "fleeing drought." Even Mission Aviation Fellowship, a wonderful support group, said it was redirecting planes and hiring crews to work through the night to ready relief flights to the Horn of Africa, where 11 million people are facing "a hunger crisis caused by several years of severe drought."

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At the risk of sounding callous, it's worth pointing out that much of Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas currently face what the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies as D4, or "exceptional" drought-the worst-and residents of those states have food to eat and water to drink. High temperatures in Waco averaged 102° in mid-July while barely registering 85° in Mogadishu, yet Waco residents carried on with business and commerce while Somali residents fled, some desperate enough to wander for six weeks toward relief in Kenya.

Severe drought may contribute to famine, but failed governments-and terrorist tactics-are what finally cause them. Somalia's transitional government, weakened by decades of misdirected foreign aid and failed international peacekeeping missions, has failed to counter al-Shabaab, a fierce al-Qaeda linked movement that actually controls much of the southern area outside Mogadishu, not surprisingly the areas most affected by famine.

"Corruption is a major part of the problem in Somalia," said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, even as donors prepared to spend more millions there. "This drought did not come out of nowhere, but the [Somali] government did not do anything to prepare for it. Instead they spent all their time fighting each other."

That-coupled with political correctness in the donor community-extends famine rather than relieves it. Aid workers blame manmade global warming yet refuse to address the manmade political causes. ActionAid's Lena Aahlby, in an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald, said Australia's failure to tax carbon emissions was responsible for the Horn of Africa's "devastating drought" and famine an ocean away.

Larger actors like the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), systemically wish away political causes. The World Bank in its Articles of Agreement states it "shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member." USAID-though it already has spent $459 million in taxpayer dollars for "emergency assistance" to the region this fiscal year-has nothing to say about Somalia's brew of corruption, terrorism, and civil war. Its "Feed the Future" program purports to provide food security through technical advances that will increase agriculture production. That's like spitting at a tornado, given al-Shabaab's treachery and the Somali government's lethargy.

Not facing the totality of Somalia's crisis is the reason it won't go away. Dadaab refugee camp opened in eastern Kenya in 1991 to take in refugees from Somalia's civil war. Twenty years later it's the largest refugee camp in the world. Constructed to house up to 90,000, its population is approaching 1 million. UN field coordinators say they have been registering an average of 1,000 Somalis a day since June. One 70-year-old traveled by car with her 3-year-old granddaughter because they lacked food, but upon reaching the Kenya border was stopped and had to walk-50 miles-to Dadaab then wait while UN workers sorted the influx of new arrivals.

The poor and malnourished need our help but they deserve more than to be sentenced to lasting deprivation by government and other programs that play at easing their suffering while standing back from solving its real causes.

Email Mindy Belz

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Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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