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Four horsemen of the apocalypse in Somalia: Drought, famine, militias and global indifference

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are stalking Somalia and riding further a field into the impoverished Horn of Africa.  Drought, famine, militias and global indifference plague this parched region at the mercy of weather, failed states, and donor fatigue. Today, over thirteen million people face a deteriorating food and security situation.

Significantly Somalia, long the epicenter of so many African crises, again has gained the tragic limelight as over four million people are affected by drought, famine and internal displacement. Moreover the Islamic Al-Shabab militias have carried out bombings killing 100 in the beleaguered capital Mogadishu; the group has equally hijacked humanitarian relief. supplies.  The militias have often banned Western food aid or tried to block its distribution.

Somalis carry the body of a man killed at the scene of an explosion tied to an Islamist insurgent group in front of the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu, Somalia. / AP / Farah Abdi Warsameh

After visiting Somalia, Turkey’s Islamic-lite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the UN and the world community who “remained helpless against the pressing problems of today… the tragedy of Somalia, where tens of thousands of children died due to the lack of even a piece of bread and a drop of water, is a shame for the international community.”

“Today the international community is watching the suffering in Somalia like a movie,” Erdogan stated bluntly, “I will be frank. No one can speak of peace, justice and civilization in the world if the outcry rising from Somalia is left unheard.”

Earlier Erdogan told a nervous General Assembly, “I feel obliged to state very frankly that today the United Nations does not demonstrate the leadership necessary to help mankind prevail over its fears for the future.”

According to the UN over 4 million people are affected by drought and famine in Somalia, while a quarter of the country’s population is displaced by the crisis.

These are very difficult circumstances  not seen in this region in more than a decade,” said Elhadj Sy,  UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa. Describing the dire situation he related that the drought must be seen to the backdrop of ongoing deadly fighting in Somalia.

Thousands had been displaced or had gone into refugee camps across the border to seek safety and basic necessities. He advised that Kenya’s Dabab refugee camp, built to house just 80,000 people, now had a population of some 450,000. That camp, near the Somali frontier, has become Kenya’s third largest “city.”

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) brings the situation into stark focus. The crisis is primarily in the south of the country, including the capital Mogadishu, with four million people in need of food; approximately  1.4 million have benefited from food assistance. Moreover 3.3 million are in need of water, with approximately 1 million people  receiving access to safe water. The UN adds that 450,000 children suffer from malnutrition with 170,000 having been treated.

In the most recent $2.4 billion aid appeal for the Horn of Africa countries, notably Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya ands Djibouti, just over 70 percent is so far funded.

This year the USA has provided approximately $432 million in aid for the Horn of Africa but concerns persist whether humanitarian deliveries can actually reach their destination given Al-Shabab tactics.

So how will a long-plagued region emerge from this recent crisis?  Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore stated, “Hunger will not stop when the drought ends.” Rather conflict and food prices will “impose more poverty and hardship on the vulnerable.” The Minister added that Ireland was providing over $67 million to the Horn of Africa in 2011 and 2012, an impressive sum for a European country battered by the recession and debt.

But beyond the humanitarian tragedy, how does this recurring crisis impact on the West?

The Al-Shabab Islamic militias and Al Qaida affiliates thrive in such a murky security environment. Extortion, hijackings of humanitarian supplies, and the recent bombing in the capital Mogadishu are the testaments to the continued strife. The Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu is teetering.

On the sea, Somalia-based pirates have emerged as a growth industry which attacks offshore shipping deep into the Indian Ocean affecting most of the world’s trading nations.

Equally large numbers of refugees and the fractious security situation in refugee camps, can lead to destabilization of nearby Kenya.

Without question this famine has become a crisis without borders and can easily pose a wider risk to East Africa and well beyond.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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