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Column: The UN must brave up to terrorists to get aid to Somalia

Charity GOAL’s chief executive John O’Shea says that while agencies are trying to help refugees flooding out of Somalia, some four million people are trapped inside and facing death.

John O'Shea

GOAL IS ONE of a few charities involved in delivering emergency relief to the Horn of Africa, where drought and famine are threatening millions of lives. CEO of the charity, John O’Shea, writes that the UN needs to stand up to the militants who are blocking aid going to those people trapped inside the country’s borders.

FOUR MILLION PEOPLE stranded in Somalia, suffering the worst effects of famine, are being denied the life-saving aid they so urgently require, on the diktat of terrorists and criminal gangs.

In its latest pronouncement, the Al-Qaeda linked group, Al Shabab, is reported by the BBC as denying that it intends allowing aid workers to intervene – which amounts to them passing a death sentence on untold numbers of their fellow citizens.

Why is the UN standing idly by and allowing this to happen? Why is the fate of millions of drought-stricken, malnourished people being decided by warlords?

Since when has the lawless state of a country been allowed stop the UN from going about its business?

The list of violent countries where the UN has intervened directly on behalf of a population is endless, yet it appears on this occasion millions are to be left to the ravages of hunger and thirst.

The UN moved swiftly in Haiti, for instance, to safeguard humanitarian workers against heavily-armed criminal gangs, after the earthquake of January, 2010. What is preventing it from doing the same thing in Somalia?

There was no talk of negotiating with or bribing the Haiti criminals to allow aid be delivered. Whether the gangsters liked it or not, armed UN peacekeepers were sent in to create and maintain safe corridors. However, bribery appears to be the only option that is being half-heartedly mooted for Somalia.

Why don’t the UN demand that the warmongers cease their violence, move into Somalia, and create safe corridors for aid organisations to mount a meaningful emergency relief operation in the country?

GOAL has been inundated with people ringing us to ask this precise question. They are watching and reading about the unfolding disaster, and are responding magnificently to appeals from aid agencies – but are then being told that the majority of famine sufferers cannot be reached because of violent criminality.

GOAL has been working in the Horn of Africa for over 30 years. Since January 2011, we have been tankering water to drought-affected communities in Ethiopia and delivering nutrition, health, seeds and fertiliser at 20 locations across six regions. During this time we have treated 33,500 children suffering from malnutrition and distributed 47 million litres of water to 500,000 beneficiaries.

Upwards of 2,000 Somali refugees are now streaming into southern and eastern parts of Ethiopia every day. Thus far, we have provided clean water to 140,000 people and over 90 metric tons of food aid to malnourished Somali refugee women and children in Kobe camp on the Somalia/Ethiopian border. Our organisation is also tending to large numbers of refugees in the Dadaab camps on the Kenya/Somalia border.

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However, regardless of how much aid agencies manage to achieve outside Somalia’s borders, this is the smallest and least problematic part of the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding. Aid must be got to the people inside Somalia.

Somalia has been ignored by the international community for decades, as its warlords and factions fought for overall dominance of the country, each brutally imposing themselves on the populations under their control. Without a central government since 1991, Somalia has been like an unwanted orphan to rest of the world.

The habit has been hard to break: and continues even through the present famine.

But break this habit the international community must. Unless it stops ignoring the starving people of Somalia, and moves to exert its authority over the groups currently holding sway in the country, millions of lives may be lost.

Column: The UN must brave up to terrorists to get aid to Somalia
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  • Horn of Africa crisis

    Newly-arrived Somali famine refugee collecting food rations of flour at the reception area of the Dagahaley camp in Dadaab, East Kenya. These rations must last for two-three weeks before they officially register and receive their ration card. Pic: Caelainn Hogan
  • Horn of Africa crisis

    GOAL Country Director Conor Phillips with Mogai, a 32-year-old Somali refugee who walked for more than five days to get to the camps at Dadaab with her four young children.
  • Horn of Africa crisis

    GOAL's Frank Prouten distributes hygiene kits and other essential items to Somali famine refugees at the Dadaab camps. Pic: Caelainn Hogan.
  • Horn of Africa crisis

    Newly-arrived Somali famine refugee Fatima and her family in front of their new temporary shelter on the outskirts of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab.
  • Horn of Africa crisis

    A female Somali famine refugee drags two jerrycans full of water back to her temporary shelter on the outskirts of Hagadera camp in Dadaab. Pic: Caelainn Hogan
  • Horn of Africa crisis

    GOAL Country Director, John Rynne, pictured with Somali famine refugees at a camp just inside the Ethiopian border. Some 2,000 refugees are flooding over the border into Ethiopia from Somalia every day. GOAL has provided over 90 metric tons of food aid to malnourished Somali refugee women and children in these camps, and they have provided clean water to 140,000 people.

About the author:

John O'Shea

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