…tens of thousands of children have died from the ongoing drought, and in fact, even though conditions have gotten worse, most of the international media has moved on to other things. One who has not is the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman, whose report two days ago from the ground was horrifying. And westerners appear to be suffering from compassion overload. Although the death toll might exceed 750,000, dwarfing previous droughts,
support — meaning dollars — has been frustratingly scant. While many more lives are at stake in Somalia’s crisis, other recent disasters pulled in far more money. For instance, Save the Children U.S. has raised a little more than $5 million in private donations for the Horn of Africa crisis, which includes Somalia and the drought-inflicted areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. That contrasts with what Save the Children raised in 2004 for the Indonesian tsunami ($55.4 million) or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 ($28.2 million) or even the earthquake in Japan earlier this year ($22.8 million) — and Japan is a rich country.
It’s not just hunger: pastoralist communities near the border of Somalia are especially affected, as many families’ animals—upon which they depended completely for their livelihoods—have died because of the drought. Men from the communities often leave their homes and go to the cities to look for work, and women and children are left to fend for themselves.
And what happens when women and children are left to fend for themselves? They get assaulted and raped; the drought zone has not approached eastern Congo as the most dangerous place on earth for women, but it is doing its best, so to speak.
It doesn’t help that at
a time when Somalia is suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, a ruthless militant group called the Shabab, which is essentially a Qaeda franchise, is on such an anti-Western tirade that it has banned Western music, Western dress, soccer, bras and even Western food aid. The Shabab are a heavily armed complication that differentiates this crisis from previous famines in Somalia, Ethiopia or Sudan and from other recent natural disasters like the tsunami in Indonesia or Haiti’s earthquake, where aid groups were able to rush in and start saving lives within a matter of hours….
People told me the Shabab were trying to prevent anyone from leaving and that Shabab fighters had even set up special camps where thousands of exhausted, hungry and sick people were corralled at gunpoint, an ideal breeding ground for disease, especially because the Shabab have also banned immunizations. It’s the perfect storm to kill countless children. Measles, typhoid and cholera are already beginning to sweep through the camps. Epidemiologists predict that the fatalities will shoot up and thousands of people will perish when the heavy rains come in November and December, spreading waterborne diseases.
Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College who has been working as a consultant on Somalia since the early 1990s, said the Shabab had pushed Somalia to a tipping point.
“The worst-case scenario is a Khmer Rouge situation where a group with a twisted ideology presides over the mass death of its own people,” he said. “The numbers are going to be horrifying.”
My response is to give to the American Jewish World Service, which has a series of long-running contacts with indigenous organizations. Even when the Shabab won’t let western groups in, AJWS can work with local partners. AJWS has also focused on the thousands of Kenyans across the Somali border who has been overwhelmed by the refugee influx and mostly ignored by other organizations. And since AJWS has specialized for years in capacity-building with local partners, supporting them will probably do some sort of preventative work for the future. Here’s a link to give to them, but there are many reputable organizations.
In any event, it’s going to be very ugly.