Africa Works has a short post today that I will quote in full, recognizing the hard reality:
Jeffrey Gettleman’s excellent article on the Somali famine presents a useful reminder of Amartya Sen’s famous insight that famines, chiefly, are human constructions. The persistence of famines isn’t a tragedy but rather a consequence of social and political breakdowns. In the Somali case, the country’s long civil war– and the tactics used by contending factions — means that famine is a tool of combat rather than the result of “food shortages” as such.
Because famines usually arise from dysfunctional distribution of food resources (rather than from an absolute shortage of food), aid agencies are inevitably limited in what they can do to alleviate famines. Moreoever, realities on the ground mean that famine aid inevitably benefits combatants as much or more than the truly needy. In Somalia, political dysfunction mocks the good intentions of relief agents. That famines are man-made does not obviate the need for famine relief efforts. However, the social construction of famines ought to give rise to a parallel public understanding of why famines persist and the limits of humanitarian aid.
. . . nearly 12 million people primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Three reasons for this: This two-year drought that we’re currently experiencing, which is part of a 60-year drought cycle; then continued lack of central government in Somalia; and then the work of al-Shabaab or the depredations of al-Shabaab in southern and central Somalia.
We are taking all of the necessary steps. We’re doing everything we can to provide assistance to Somalis in need. That is really – right now our primary concern is helping to save lives in the Horn of Africa. And I just have to point out that it’s not a coincidence that the two areas in Somalia where the UN has declared famine conditions exist are areas under al-Shabaab’s control. Be that as it may, we are doing everything we can to get aid to people who need it. And we do remain, of course, concerned about the actions of al-Shabaab. And so as we’re delivering aid to people in need, we have got to take care that al-Shabaab is not able to profit from this humanitarian crisis.
Now, U.S. law has never prohibited humanitarian assistance to people in need in Somalia. In fact, about 90 million – or rather, about $80 million of our aid thus far has, in fact, been delivered to people in Somalia. But in the face of this evolving crisis and the extreme humanitarian needs, we have issued new guidance to allow more flexibility and to provide a wider range of age – of aid to a larger number of areas in need. We hope this guidance will clarify that aid workers who are partnering with the U.S. Government to help save lives under difficult and dangerous conditions are not in conflict with U.S. laws and regulations that seek to limit the resources or to eliminate resources flowing to al-Shabaab.
. . . .
We don’t expect there to be any grand bargain where we’ll be able to have access to all of southern Somalia, but we are working to find whatever ways we can to deliver that assistance and have a significant contribution of food arriving as we speak.
19,000 metric tons started arriving last week. We have been working throughout the Horn since the early warning systems alerted us to a possible drought last fall, and we were able to preposition supplies and increase programming throughout the Horn. The difficulty has been access in southern Somalia, and so that is the biggest challenge facing us right now, is how to get aid to the people who need it most who are still stuck inside of south Somalia. We’ve seen a huge refugee outflow into Ethiopia and Kenya as well as a significant displacement – about 1.6 million Somalis have fled north into the urban areas, which is – also presents a humanitarian challenge for us.
We believe that there will be ways and opportunities to move selectively into parts of southern Somalia with food, health – health is a critical piece of this given the leading cause of death in the ’92 famine was health-related causes – and send the therapeutic and supplemental feeding that will help save lives. We’re moving aggressively to provide all of that assistance.
Owen Barder at “Owen Abroad” has excellent background on the context of the famine and how preparation from past experience and political divergence make the situation now so different in Somalia and Ethiopia. And links on where each of us can contribute financially to relief efforts. (h/t Texas in Africa).