Sunday, September 04, 2011

From bad to worse

The famine in Somalia has spread to new regions, the UN will announce. Some four million people – more than 50 per cent of the population – are now in crisis, and the famine is expected to spread further in the coming months. In Somalia fewer than one in five in the south are getting help.

After a visit to southern Somalia last week, UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said that the peak of the crisis had not yet been reached. "From the point of view of the food security of the people, obviously, as time goes by, until the next harvest is possible, the situation will become worse and worse," he said.

The international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, returned from Somalia last week and said that, even though there was chronic malnutrition and drought across east Africa, hardly any agencies were able to work inside war-torn Somalia, where the picture was "profoundly distressing". He condemned other organisations and the media for "glossing over" the reality in order to convince people that simply giving money for food was the answer. According to Karunakara "We may have to live with the reality that we may never be able to reach the communities most in need of help"

Karunakara said that the use of phrases such as "famine in the Horn of Africa" or "worst drought in 60 years" obscured the man-made factors that had created the crisis and wrongly implied that the solution was simply to find the money to ship enough food to the region. "...glossing over the man-made causes of hunger and starvation in the region and the great difficulties in addressing them will not help resolve the crisis."

He said charities needed to start treating the public "like adults". He went on: "There is a con, there is an unrealistic expectation being peddled that you give your £50 and suddenly those people are going to have food to eat. Well, no. We need that £50, yes; we will spend it with integrity. But people need to understand the reality of the challenges in delivering that aid. We don't have the right to hide it from people; we have a responsibility to engage the public with the truth."

Chronic malnutrition, said Karunakara, is not new in east Africa and needs long-term action. "The Somali people have been living in a country at war, with no government, for 20 years, with several long periods of hardship, of famine and drought. This harvest failure is just what has tipped them over the edge this time, a catastrophe made worse," he said.

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