Famine in Somalia hits women and children hardest

While the US media has been narrowly focused on the debt ceiling deal, an extreme humanitarian crisis has developed in Somalia and neighboring countries, where it has not rained in four or five years. From IRIN:

According to the Famine and Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), the drought situation is the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa’s worst food security crisis since Somalia’s 1991/1992 famine.

On 20 July, the UN declared famine in Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool regions in southern Somalia, warning that the situation could worsen because the drought had been compounded by insecurity, lack of aid and food price inflation.

The famine has been brought on by an extreme drought, and according to IRIN, rains are not expected until October, meaning a few more seasons of lost crops and livestock.

As we’ve seen in other humanitarian crisis, women and children often bare the brunt of the impact. This is true for the Somalian famine as well, where it is estimated that 80% of refugees are women and children.

Even as the UN announced that famine had spread to more areas in south-central Somalia, reports from the capital, Mogadishu, indicate that the suffering of the drought-displaced, mostly women and children, was increasing, with reports that government forces and Al-Shabab militia were hampering aid distribution in areas under their control.

“The situation is such that most of those reaching Mogadishu are mainly women and children because most of the men have remained in the Al-Shabab-held areas since they fear being arrested by government forces for allegedly being pro-Al Shabab,” Su’di Mohamed Ali, director of administration and finance in the Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs, told IRIN. “Al-Shabab itself often prevents men from going to government-controlled areas.”

The Obama Administration responded to the crisis earlier this week by agreeing not to “prosecute relief agencies for delivering aid to parts of Somalia controlled by the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, despite concerns that unrestricted aid in the failed state would be diverted to the wrong hands.”

Hopefully the removal of those aid restrictions will improve the dire situation there.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    The interpretation of the evidence presented here, that the famine has “hit women and children hardest,” does not seem to fully square with the evidence. For example, the Al-jazeera article linked in the post above indicates that no one really knows what has happened to the men, and that 80% of the people receiving aid in refugee camps are women and children. That article indicates that fear of abduction is one of the main concerns for the young men, and that many men have provided safe passage for their wives and children to refugee camps, staying behind themselves. So, how has the famine hit women hardest? Or is it just that we assume that, because of the paradigm we operate under, these events MUST hit women hardest. Read the Al-Jazeera article; it’s a very interesting take: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/07/2011720161814857291.html

  2. Posted August 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I agree. The fact that the majority of refugees in the camps are women doesn’t quite equate to women and children being hit the hardest. It’s becoming clear that al-shabaab is rounding up young men in order to force them into participating in the civil war in Somalia. In addition, as many of these families are nomadic or dependent on herds of cattle/goats, it’s also being said that men are staying behind with any remaining livestock in an effort to preserve what little the family has; as if everyone leaves there won’t be anything to go back to if and when the famine/drought subsides. Of course, caring for several children and trying to get to the camps, especially in light of the violence leveled at women due to political unrest, is not a trivial matter. I don’t mean to say that. Nor do I mean to negate the new estimates saying that some 29,000 children under the age of five have died due to the famine. Only that, it’s more complicated that it’s being presented.

  3. Posted August 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Or…you know, we could ask the people in the US to pay their share in taxes and actually give the people of Somalia some aid.

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