Somalia's misery

The famine in Somalia has piled more misery on the people of a country wracked by a civil war for two decades. A famine alert is declared when two out of every 10 people have access to less than 2,100 calories; four out of 10,000 children, or two out of 10,000 people die every day; 30 per cent of the children suffer from acute malnutrition. The United Nations has declared that two regions in southern Somalia — southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle — are in the grip of a famine that is killing six out of every 10,000 children under the age of five every day. Nearly 3.7 million people are directly affected by the crisis, and over 2 million require emergency aid. A severe drought since 2009 in the Horn of Africa has affected three other countries — Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. But it is only in Somalia that the crisis has escalated to such severe proportions. As the eminent economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has shown, famines are man-made. From 1991, there has been no government in Somalia. The war has destroyed people's livelihoods. The U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government controls only parts of the capital Mogadishu. Southern Somalia is controlled by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate that contributed to the crisis by driving out international aid agencies two years ago on the suspicion they were western spies. Only in recent weeks has the group permitted these organisations back; some days ago, it also withdrew from parts of Mogadishu it controlled, leaving the capital fully to the TFG. This has allowed the U.N. to begin delivering some aid, but the security situation is still precarious and concerns are high that al-Shabaab might siphon off aid. The U.N. has called on the international community to contribute $300 million by mid-September to facilitate emergency assistance. It wants to raise $2 billion over the long term to pull the country out of the humanitarian disaster.

It is disquieting that New Delhi, which declared a comprehensive engagement with Africa just two months ago at the second India-Africa summit, has not yet responded to the unfolding crisis in Somalia. The silence surprises all the more considering that earlier this year the government appointed an envoy to the country, 20 years after the Indian Embassy closed down. At the May 2011 summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised $2 million to the African Union Mission for Somalia, which is helping the TGF to maintain control in Mogadishu. But making a significant contribution to the humanitarian effort is a more urgent, life-saving priority. It is time that economically rising India came off the benches on this one.

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