As if thing weren’t bad enough in Somalia, there are now fears the October rains will bring malaria and other diseases to refugee camps in the Horn of Africa. This only adds a new urgency to help those affected by the worst famine in 60 years.
The main impediment isn’t the West’s lack of generosity. It is the difficulty in accessing those people affected by the famine who cannot make it out to neighboring countries. More than 750,000 are at immediate risk of starvation inside Somalia.
More political will is needed to resolve this issue and overcome the challenges of bringing food aid to both the south of the country, controlled by al-Shabab, the Islamist group that won’t allow in relief agencies, and to the capital of Mogadishu, under the tenuous control of an often-corrupt Transitional Federal Government.
Ken Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College, N.C. and one of the world’s foremost Somalia experts, is calling for a “diplomatic surge” to force al-Shabab to open routes for aid delivery, and to hold the transitional government accountable.
This is a welcome idea. The international community can mobilize “unrelenting, full-scale diplomatic pressure” on al-Shabab and on the government. Convincing these players to set aside their differences will not be easy. But in a new report, Menkhaus says the Islamic world must take the lead in what he calls a “Save Darfur” moment.
For its part, the UN, which funds the transitional government, must let the warlords and others who steal food aid know they can be charged with crimes against humanity. There are willing reformers within the government, including Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.
There is no guarantee that such aggressive diplomacy will work. But it is at least worth trying. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake, and the world must do everything it can to try to save them.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto (Sept. 28)