The country of Somalia is experiencing the worst famine and drought in nearly 60 years with an estimated half the country – 3.7 million people – now in crisis, according to the United Nations.
The east African nation once a busting center of commerce in the middle Ages, is now being called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by Refugee’s International.
Already deeply torn by an unyielding and devastating civil war, southern Somalia is now simultaneously bearing the weight of the famine blistering the Horn of Africa. The situation is producing unfathomable statistics; one fourth of the population has already been displaced with over 10 million currently in need of emergency aid, according to the UN. The U.N. issued a declaration on Wednesday specifically acknowledging the two southern Somalian cities of Bakool and Lower Shabelle as areas of official famine.
Some analysts say the death toll is likely to surpass that of the famine that ravaged Ethiopia in the 80s which estimated 1 million dead in just a single year.
The country has not had a functioning government since 1991 after the former administration was overturned by a shamble of clan militias that have since splintered and manipulated the nation into complete humanitarian and political chaos. This internal strife has made it increasingly difficult for international aid agencies to coordinate relief. Though, the U.N. and other nongovernmental organizations are looking to spend around $300 million in the coming two months to relieve hard hit areas in the south.
Al Shabab, widely considered to be one of the most violent militant groups in Africa, has secured control over much of the nation. Formerly the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union with ties to al Qaeda, al Shabab -meaning “the youth” in Arabic- has menaced the country relentlessly, committing some of the most disturbing human rights violations in the world. The group garners power through terrorizing the public; chopping off hands, stoning civilians, implementing drastic restrictions on education, recruitment of child soldiers, and other disturbing tactics in a quest to implement strict Shariah law.
Many areas under influence of al Shabab are completely untouched by any kind of foreign aid due to the political implications of the jihadist militant group. In 2010 the World Food Program suspended aid operations throughout Somalia after al Shabab ordered aid agencies to halt operations on the pretense that the agencies were anti-muslim spies. Furthermore, the Obama administration pulled the plug on American food aid after evidence mounted that al Shabab was transferring aid resources to fund operations last year.
This inadvertent abandonment has left pockets of densely traumatized and starved citizens that lie even more vulnerable to groups like al Shabab. Children are at the forefront of this human rights war with 1 in 10 children at risk of death in Somalia, according to the Red Cross. The desperation of the country has planted a ripe field for child soldiering. Not only is al-Shabab luring children with promises of material goods such as phones an money, but the group is now raiding schools with the intention of forced recruitment.
Recently al Shabab ransacked a school in the Somalia capital of Mogadishu, forcing children into an idling car waiting outside the building while killing any teacher refusing compliance, according to Amnesty International.
The famine has created such a state of emergency that al Shabab recently announced they are again opening areas under their control to international aid. Some analysts remain wary of this announcement saying the ban was lifted solely to generate money for militant operations through a “registration fee” and to avoid further fleeing of citizens to surrounding transitional governments.
Last week, Hilary Clinton’s office at the State Department announced that the US is willing to send 28 million in aid to Somalia despite the fact that the country is under al-Shabab control.
Though, Clinton’s announcement may ring out to be just an empty promise due to a thorny rope of bureaucratic red tape and a vaguely defined law that prohibits the U.S. from providing aid to terrorists groups.
The situation is a tedious one, swaying precariously between providing for the desperate needs of innocent civilians and the fearsome notion of supplying resources to a brutal and ruthless terrorist group.
The Refugee’s International website urges the UN High Commissioners for Refugees to coordinate a high-level international conference focused on the regional Somali displacement crisis while developing a new and innovative approach to Somalia that is not focused on the support of the centralized puppet administration.