London is hosting a conference on Somalia, and with wars and droughts taking lives it is vital policies prioritise the vulnerable
Returning to Somalia in 2011 after 19 years, and hearing the UN declare famine was heart-wrenching. We could see the evidence all around us in Dollow, which had become a transition post for Somalis en route to Ethiopia.
The women we spoke to referred repeatedly to gaajo (hunger). The local district commissioner urged us to increase the support available, including for other areas “where children and the elderly have to be left to die before they can get here”. He told us “your eyes are your teacher”.
The international community used their eyes and did respond by providing life-saving assistance to large numbers of the Somali people. The UN declaration that famine conditions no longer exist within Somalia is welcome news. It is in large measure due to the public’s generous support, increased aid from donor governments, aid getting through and efficient local markets. But the terrible truth is that at least 2.5 million Somali people continue to be in need of life-saving assistance.
That is why the discussions held at the upcoming London Somalia Conference are of great importance to the ordinary Somali. For the past 21 years, Somalia has suffered wars and droughts, which have resulted in an estimated 450,000 to 1.5 million people losing their lives. Somalia now has 1.36 million people who are displaced within their own country, the third highest displaced population in Africa.
When we talk of numbers so large it is almost impossible to visualise the scale of human suffering in front of us. But we must aim to do so and ensure it is at the forefront of any decisions that will impact on ordinary people’s lives.
The Somali people are incredibly resilient and have always managed to overcome enormously difficult conditions to survive and look after their families. The current crisis, however, is overwhelming and has completely destroyed their assets and livelihoods. It will take many years and the international community’s commitment to ensure they can rebuild their lives.
The safety of Somalia civilians should be paramount. In recent months an expanding international military intervention has intensified fighting in Somalia with ordinary Somalis caught up in the cross fire once again. Military action is worsening the humanitarian situation, endangering lives and denying vulnerable Somalis access to desperately needed life-saving assistance.
For the last two decades numerous external military, political and counter-terrorism interventions have failed to bring peace and stability to Somalia, with civilians, most notably women and children, suffering from the worst impacts of these policies.
It is imperative that all discussions held during this conference have the protection of those ordinary people at the core of decisions and that all parties in Somalia are held accountable for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Decisions-makers should be cognisant of the human impact of any decisions or outcomes emanating from the conference in London.
Without forward-looking solutions to build the resilience of Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa from natural disaster, we will continue to see millions at risk of hunger. Long-term measures need to be put in place to ensure these countries can combat the extreme effects of climate change, which is currently devastating livelihoods. Political will and innovative solutions are needed by the leaders at the London Conference to address food insecurity, including investment in small-holder agriculture and pastoralist livelihoods. Somalia also needs to be given the opportunity to rebuild its infrastructure, hospitals and schools, without which sustained development cannot take place.
And, most importantly, all policies decided in London must be in the interest of the Somali civilians.
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from Mary Robinson