Friday, August 26, 2011

The Somali Famine: Hunger And Power by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

Once again, the world is witness to a horrendous catastrophe in Somalia and in other parts of the Horn of Africa which some journalists now describe as “The Horn of Hunger.”

The famine that has hit the region has already claimed the lives of 29,000 Somali children under 5 years in the past three months. 12 million people need food aid. The UN has requested 2.4 billion US dollars from member states. It has raised only half that amount so far.

We can all do much more to help the people of Somalia and the region. Rich countries in particular have a moral obligation to assist the starving and suffering Somalis. For wealthy Muslims, the pain and ordeal of the Somalis --- who are mostly Muslims--- carries a special message since this is the month of Ramadan when Muslims all over the world observe the dawn to dusk annual fast. If one of the purposes of the fast is to develop empathy for the poor and hungry, the catastrophe in Somalia offers an opportunity for the wealthy to donate generously to the UN’s food aid programme.

In this regard, it is significant that ordinary individuals and communities have responded to the Somali catastrophe in a spirit of solidarity that is most touching. An 11 year-old schoolboy in Ghana, Andrew Adansi-Bonnah, has launched a campaign to raise 20 million Ghanaian cedis (about 13 million dollars) to “Save Somali Children from Hunger.” A charity in Gaza, Palestine has named its campaign, “ From Gaza: hand in hand to save the children of Somalia.” When a people with such limited means of sustenance who are amongst the most dispossessed on earth, are ever ready to sacrifice for a people who are in an even worse situation than them, it gives hope to humanity.

While we demonstrate our commitment to the plight of the Somali people, we should also try to understand the root causes of the famine. The drought, highlighted by the media, is undoubtedly a cause. But it is not the only cause. Somalia does not have a functioning government. For the better part of the last 20 years since the ouster of President Said Barre, it has seen nothing but lawlessness and anarchy. If it had a government that exercised authority and power, there may not be any mass starvation. In the mid-seventies, there was also a prolonged drought in Somalia but it did not lead to widespread hunger because there was a government that acted quickly.

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