Monday, August 15, 2011

Keep On Rockin' in the Third World!

It is difficult to convey to people here in the United States the severity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Somalia. When the average American hears that there are people starving to death somewhere in Africa it comes as no surprise. We have heard this so many times throughout our lives that we have come to expect it and sadly, to even accept it as an inevitability. It is for this reason that we here at the Liberal Mob have blogged about the situation taking place on the Horn of Africa a couple of times in recent weeks. First about the Failed State status of Somalia and how it compounds and worsens the ecological and humanitarian crises taking place there, and later why the United Nations & the International community had trouble responding quickly and decisively declaring a famine.

As of today, the United Nations has declared famine in 5 regions of Somalia. The majority of these areas have seen little or no rainfall in two years. Eighty percent of local livestock have died and there is no local agriculture. The majority of the famine victims, over 30,000 of them, are under the age of five years old. There are no domestic government social programs of any kind available for the millions of Somalis that are suffering. It has been argued by me that this nightmare crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa region is not a "typical" humanitarian crisis. The ecological crisis (in the form of climate induced drought), the failed state status of the Somali government, regional and international terror organizations present in the area, piracy, smuggling, warlords, ongoing armed conflict, etc. exist in a combination that the international community and aid organizations have never had to deal with before.

This unprecedented combination of problems presents the international community with a sort of bellwether on its ability to respond effectively. These sorts of crises will likely become increasingly common in the 21st century and so we must gauge how adept the world is at not only responding appropriately but also preventing them from occurring in the first place. The drought in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa region is not entirely preventable. But the famine, terrorism, armed conflict, piracy, etc are.

The most frustrating thing is that extreme drought is largely cyclical and predictable. Even in under developed regions droughts can often be mitigated to an extent that precludes famine. But due to 20 years of instability, there was no formal drought response plan, nor was there any meaningful government preparation in place. The extremely limited resources that the Somali government does possess are allocated to combatting Al-Shabaab and other militant factions and anti-government warlords. This further compounds the ability of the United Nations and other international aid organizations to effectively respond because Somalia has not been able to invest in infrastructure. Many donor nations had also cut foreign aid to Somalia in the years leading up to the drought due to the political instability and ongoing armed conflict, further setting the stage for famine to occur.

The United Nation World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) have been largely unable to get desperately needed supplies to the people who need it the most. Further, the WFP admitted today that it is investigating theft of food and medical aid by Al-Shabaab and other militant forces. BBC World News was reporting last week that the Refugee camps in the Somali Capital of Mogadishu were essentially raided by forces who allegedly killed and injured civilians to do so. The weakened interim Somali government, currently being supported by 9,000 African Union peace keeping troops, has warned that the Mogadishu is littered with land mines courtesy of the Islamic militants who have largely abandoned the city. Most of the mines are on the main thoroughfares preventing aid organizations from getting supplies into the city and to the refugees camps. Those who have managed to escape Somalia itself are greeted by circumstances not much better. The Refugee camp at Dadaab, Kenya (the largest in the world)was designed to hold no more than 90,000 refugees. It has swelled to 440,000 people.

So what can the International Community do? What could or should America do? After all, we sent troops to Somalia in the early 1990's and it turned out to be a disaster. There are no easy answers here and there is essentially no possibility that the crises will not worsen and that thousands or hundreds of thousands of people will die. What we can do is stop being apathetic toward it. And what we must do is recognize that we are directly and indirectly contributing to it.

Our use of energy is effecting the climate and changing drought, flood, storm, and various other weather patterns. Our totalitarian form of agriculture has given rise to a global system where there is enough food produced to feed all of humanity yet millions go hungry. Our global economic system exploits billions in the third world so that first world inhabitants can live in relative comfort. We contribute to worsening the often dysfunctional and volatile geopolitical landscape exacerbating armed conflicts, economic instability, degradation of social and political institutions, and leading to failed governments and ultimately failed states.

Yes, the United States has, does and will continue to be a world leader when it comes to aid, supplies and human capital being contributed to the most desperate regions of the world. But the 21st century will present us with new and complex problems that our 20th century solutions can not solve. We have entered an era of unprecedented interconnectedness. As the world super power we must embrace a new role for a new century. No longer can we attempt to mitigate the effects of humanitarian crises and global instability. We must learn to eliminate their causes. If the current catastrophe on the Horn of Africa is an indication of how the global community is prepared (or unprepared) and willing to respond, the 21st century will see disease, death, starvation, war, and economic and social collapse on a global scale that surpasses anything humanity has ever had to deal with. The Somali famine is a test. As of now, we are failing.

The Liberal Mob

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