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Cash not food is best for Somalia
Wednesday August 16, 2017
The United Nations has come up with a wizard new way of taking the fun out of famine camps.
It's caused consternation in the agony industry - all the way from warlord lairs to the headquarters of aid agencies.
It's bad for business for both - and it could save lives.
Let's face it - it is rare, almost unheard of, for a UN agency to innovate.
Rarer still for an agency responsible for emergency responses, to human and man-made catastrophes, to do something that will rattle its "stakeholders".
Money. Yup. Good old-fashioned cash.
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According to a paper published by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; "in April, NGOs and UN agencies have continued to scale up cash-based assistance (cash and vouchers) with an estimated 2.4 million people reached and near $35m disbursed directly to people affected by the drought".
They're giving out money - not food - to end a drought that threatens (allegedly) 6.7 million people in Somalia.
It sounds silly, right? Surely, if there's a famine, there's no food?
The alleged famines of South Sudan and Somalia are (if you believe they exist at all) a consequence not of a shortage of food, but an excess of human stupidity.
They are man-made horrors, the byproduct of war.
In the past, such man-made catastrophes have been manipulated by warlords as a means to extort money from the international community and continue war.
The United Nations is giving out money - not food - to end a drought that threatens (allegedly) 6.7m people in Somalia
This was the case for more than three decades in the Sudan.
And in 1991/2 the UN and US led an invasion of southern Somalia precisely to put such warlords (who by then had starved 350,000 people to death) out of business.
Much of the alleged famine areas in Somalia are in regions controlled by al Shabaab or other clan militia.
In 1992, identical groups of moreyaan (bandits) orchestrated spectacular levels of starvation, brought in the media to cover it, and charged aid workers to try to end it.
In Sudan, southern rebels stole about 80% of the food and fuel intended for civilians.
Without it they would have been wiped out.
We only have the word of a few unverifiable aid workers that there is a famine, or the threat of one, in either south Sudan or Somalia.
Claims of 250,000 dead in 2012 have not been proven - there have been very few images of the dead, or their graves, and no international observer can authenticate the tragedy.
But those reported to have died were in al Shabaab areas - and there is no doubt the al Qaeda-linked group made a fortune out of allowing deliveries into its area.
Sending food into a warzone will always make matters worse.
It enriches gangsters who control trucking and distribution and can manipulate who gets it.
There is no food shortage in Somalia.
So sending people the means to buy it should, for now, cut out the evil middle men.
It will also, coincidentally and frustratingly, cut down on the armies of aid workers who enjoy doing good in the nastier parts of the world.
The British have a particular penchant for joining these organisations.
Doing so offers the opportunity for adventure and altruism.
Sending food into a warzone will always make matters worse
Lurking in the DNA may even be a post-colonial sense of entitlement to control the lives of Third World citizens.
Again, cash transfers to the needy takes away this part of the industry.
It gives purchasing power to those who need it most and reduces the ability of others to direct their lives.
It gives them agency.
What they now do with it will be up to them. We'll see.
But awkward questions may follow.
If the money they are sent is squandered, whose fault will that be?
With agency comes responsibility.
Sam Kiley is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Sky News
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