Somali peace deal needed to prevent famine repeat

20 Jul

GENEVA – It is a relentless civil war that has forced Somalia to the brink of famine and not just poor rainfall, and any solution must therefore include a peace deal, the chief of the African Development Bank told AFP.

“I’m amazed at how people are treating this as a case of failure of rain and food shortage. It is more than that,” Donald Kaberuka told AFP in an interview.

“I hope that this time round the world will come together for a triangular solution. Somalia must have a short-term response and a longer-term response for stabilising the economy, funding and livestock systems,” he said.

In addition, “I think that people concerned must now go in search for peace,” he stressed.

“If it was not accompanied by a solution for peace, it would mean that it would recur,” warned Kaberuka.

Mired in almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre and plagued by recurring natural disasters, Somalia has been described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Al-Qaeda inspired Shebab rebels control most of south and central Somalia and roughly half of the capital Mogadishu despite gains in recent months by the African Union AMISOM forces that are propping up the transitional government.

The UNHCR refugee agency estimates that a quarter of the country’s population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees.

This year alone, at least 135,000 Somalis have crossed the borders in search of refuge as well as food and water.

The situation is so critical that even the Shebab, who only recently lifted a two-year-old ban on foreign aid, appealed for help for the country’s drought-stricken population.

For Kaberuka, this year’s severe food shortage is “absolutely related, as far as I’m concerned, to the destruction caused by the Somali crisis.”

He acknowledged that Somalis themselves have to provide a solution in the quest for peace, but also called on the international community to facilitate the process.

“Look at the paradox of the pirates, the sea routes in the Indian Ocean are being disrupted and countries have deployed naval resources,” he said, referring to Somali sea bandits who have held 26 vessels and more than 600 hostages in attacks launched between January and May this year.

“Instead of looking for solutions in the Indian Ocean, it is better to look for it on the ground,” urged Kaberuka.

Comparing the Somali situation to Ethiopia’s two decades ago, Kaberuka pointed out that in the build up to the 1980s famine, Ethiopia was also engulfed by strife.

“The starvation in northern Ethiopia was also related to the war at the time, that displaced large numbers of people to the south,” he noted.

But with the political situation in the country stabilised, there have been very few incidents of food shortages since, he pointed out.

“Throughout history, whether in Bangladesh or Ethiopia or elsewhere, famine is not necessarily a shortage of food. It is a shortage of purchasing power by large groups of people” such as displaced populations, said Kaberuka.

For now, “the urgent thing is to save the babies, mothers, children, everyone that counts,” he said.

With the UN food agency due to host a drought crisis meeting on July 25, Kaberuka hoped that relief funds would be pledged by not just regular donors such as the United States or European Union, but also from others.

“Even us Africans must put something on the table,” he said.

Asked if the debt crisis engulfing the EU and the United States could hurt funding levels, Kaberuka said: “There are many ways of saving banks. But there is only one way to save children.”


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