When asked why a rabbit was shivering after the storm has already passed… the next storm on the way makes me shiver, the wise plant eating mammal announced! Mohamed Ibrahim, former Minister of Post and Telecommunication offers an alternative approach towards a solution for an old problem.
by Mohamed Ibrahim
Monday, March 20, 2017
The recent call by the UN Secretary General for urgent action on the hunger crisis on his visit to Somalia highlighted the need for immediate response. It also echoed similar calls in early March from the president of the World Bank and aid agencies.
The UN this week declared that some 20 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk of starvation unless urgent action is taken. People will die in tens of thousands without immediate food relief.
However we can also learn from the past. Drought in Somalia or the Horn of Africa in general is no longer a random or surprise event. It is cyclical and almost predictable.
One thing is certain, however. There will be an indelible stain on our collective conscience if we repeat past solutions and expect different outcomes. We should ask ourselves why should this be different from the last drought, the one before that, and the one following this. Forward thinking, anticipating and acting before the next food crisis becomes a famine, would be a good start.
Part of the problem is that the UN seems to declare famine once people have already started dying of hunger, insisting the following three measures of death, malnutrition and hunger must be met:
- At least 20 percent of households in an area must face extreme food shortages (less than 2,100 calories a day) and a limited ability to cope.
- More than 30 percent of the population must be acutely malnourished.
- At least two people for every 10,000 die each day.
Whose definition of famine is this? Is this really how to deal with fellow human beings in need of help? Before reaching current desperation levels, there are ways to save millions from starvation.
The issue, it seems, is not lack of food or resources to deal with these recurring droughts, but rather lack of forward planning and strategizing for the drought cycle. As mentioned above, the UN has made its modus operandi on this issue clear. What about the governments in the region, what stops them to collect data and inform the world before the UN reps confirm that 2 people died each day for every 10,000.
This predicament is not new. A lot of research has shown the recurring droughts mentioned in the World Bank statement are part of a bigger problem resulting from global climate change. For those who live in the Horn of Africa, climate change is not an academic debate about the thickness of Arctic ice. Ten-yearly drought cycles have been replaced by five-yearly cycles.
Dr Abdihakim M Abdi of Lund University’s faculty of science recently published a comprehensive thesis confirming this change. In a 2014 study he mentions that between 1900 and 2013, 642 droughts were reported across the world. Forty-five percent (291) of these droughts were in Africa and affected 362 million people, resulting in 847,143 mortalities.
What is relevant to this current issue is how timely intervention can influence the impact of drought. Take the devastating drought of 1972-75 which was felt severely in the Horn of Africa and caused a minimum of 200,000 deaths in Ethiopia. In contrast, during the same drought, neighbouring Somalia experienced a lower casualty level of 20,000 deaths. This was due to a proactive intervention by the then military government.
Reflecting on this is important as it highlights the way that different approaches can produce better outcome. During the 1972-75 drought in Somalia, the government relocated the people in the drought stricken areas to other parts of the country where they managed to get food for their animals. Some also learnt how to fish and adopt to a new ways of living.
It is not only drought that negatively impacts the region. Some years, the rainy season can be intense. That is, large amounts of rain fall over a relatively short period of time, and can cause widespread flooding. This happened in 2007 when 45 heavy rainfall events displaced 2.5 million people across several sub-Saharan countries.
Is this unique to the Horn of Africa? Apparently not. During the most recent summer in Australia, in a three month period, at least 205 weather records were broken. This was confirmed in a Climate Council report, titled "Angry Summer" that documented intense heatwaves and bushfires in eastern Australia. This report also confirmed that this extreme weather was driven by climate change.
More than three decades ago, as a volunteer student I worked on a project to help distribute food to many suffering from a drought in Somalia. Three months ago I took my son to Somalia to show him where I worked years before that time. It was obvious that the drought was back and this time much more severe.
In November 2016, my son and I drove to Wajaale, a town on the Somali/Ethiopian border. There were thousands of people relocating to an area where there could find some grass for their animals. Many were dying there and scores have died since.
Timeliness can make the difference between life and death, but anticipation marks the different between a crisis and a catastrophe.
There are other measures we can implement and which will help immediately. No matter what administration is in the White House, I call on all banks in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand to allow Somalis in the diaspora to remit money via their banks to desperate relatives. The Somali diaspora remits more money than foreign aid and investment combined. This money allows Somalis to have some control over their own lives by enabling them to buy food and other necessities without having to rely on aid.
Terrorism flourishes on the sour ground of alienation and resentment of preventable neglect. Counter-productive blanket bans on life-lines that can now be reasonably vetted at source of sending is an administrative and humanitarian outrage.
Such ‘derisking’ by banks is not just a draconian response to security concerns, requiring more nuanced solution, but has already had the unintended consequence of contributing to the de-peopling of an already at-risk population. Lack of autonomy and capacity to be self-sufficient may well lead people into the hands of those very people the international community is so terrified of; the terrorists.
The Somali people have a right to feel abandoned. Donor nations and the international community are effectively being neutered by threats of exorbitant bank fines in the name of terrorist prevention.
Mohamed Ibrahim has spent the last decade in Somalia assisting the Somali governments, two of which as minister of Telecommunications in the first non-transitional Federal Government. An ICT expert, Mohamed has travelled widely for three years seeking support for regulating telecommunication and finance sectors aimed at shutting down violent anti-democracy groups. One of the first African nations to introduce democracy, Somalia recently held elections. Mohamed urges nations to put aside fears of Somalia as a terrorism exporter and to help it simply to survive.