Thursday, January 19, 2006
The skin of her malnourished son Nemo stretches tightly over his tiny skeletal frame, while his sister Asma still retains some of her rounded features. Ayan, who earns $7 a month selling firewood, is so weak from malnutrition herself she can produce only enough breast milk to feed her daughter.Millions are at risk of famine in eastern Africa after a potentially devastating drought wiped out this year's crop. Aid organizations warn that unless urgent supplies of food, water and medicine are delivered to the region, more people could die than perished in the drought of 2000 - which killed nearly 100,000 in Ethiopia alone.
"People will die because we are already too late with our help," said Abdullahi Ali Haji, the government's health officer for this area of eastern Ethiopia. "This is our warning that without immediate help a famine will soon follow."
Preliminary assessments show those affected by the drought include an estimated 3.5 million in Kenya, 1.75 million in Ethiopia, 1.4 million in Somalia and 60,000 in Djibouti.
Poor rains over the last nine years have left many families living on a knife's edge. This year the rains failed completely. Food prices are up as much as 50 percent, while the value of prized livestock has plummeted, hitting hard the nomads who rely on cattle, sheep, goats and camels for food and income.
The warning signs of famine appear long before it takes hold in this corner of Ethiopia, about 870 miles southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa. The bones and rotting carcasses of cattle mark the landscape. Children, whose immunity systems are hopelessly compromised by insufficient nutrition, are beginning to fall sick.The handful of malnourished children that used to be brought to Haji's hospital in Gode, about 50 miles southwest of Denan, has now turned into steady trickle.
The two doctors assigned to cover 1 million people in the region are totally overwhelmed. They have just a handful of drugs to combat widespread measles and diarrhea from drinking dirty water."As ever, women and children will bear the brunt of this disaster," said Bjorn Ljungqvist, the U.N's Children's Fund Country Representative.
Aid agencies do not have money to buy food from districts with surplus harvests to feed those hit by the food shortages, said Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the World Food Program."WFP is short $44 million now to feed 1.1 million people because of the drought," Smerdon said in Kenya on Tuesday. "Without new donations, WFP will run out of food to distribute in drought affected areas by the end of February."
Efforts to help the region's hungry have also been troubled by a low-level conflict between the Ethiopian army and separatist rebels in the area. In recent months, trucks carrying food aid have been attacked and, in some cases, burned.
Violent clan disputes, a spillover from the feuding warlords in neighboring Somalia, have deterred aid workers and the U.N. from entering the region.
"We have received nothing," said Aden Abdi, who has nine hungry mouths to feed in the wind-blown town of Kelafo. Water wells are empty and the nearby Wabe Shebelle River, which at this time of year can be as much as 65 feet wide, is now easily traversed by foot.
"We have been forgotten," the oval-faced woman sighed, sitting outside her one-room stick shack where her family struggles to survive on $8 a month. "No one cares if we live or die, as long as they don't see."In Kenya, however, British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn met President Mwai Kibaki on Tuesday and pledged $5.3 million to help alleviate the crisis, according to a statement released by the president's office.
One-third of the money will go to dealing with food shortages and the remaining two-thirds will go to providing water in drought-stricken areas, the statement said.
In Ethiopia, one aid group has been working on a project to help cattle herders develop ways of coping with drought in the region.
The project, developed by the U.S.-based aid agency CARE with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, will help cattle herders negotiate access to land when a crisis develops, provide a market so they can sell part of their herds and supply emergency food and water.
"We hopefully are going to get away from these emergency responses in the region," said Carey Farley, a program manager for CARE, from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
He added that one of the key challenges for aid agencies was to ensure that emergency food rations reach those who need them most.
It happened, however, in early January when the two top officials met in Sana, Yemen, following an invitation from Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salah.
What surprised many and delighted others was the speed at which the two Somali politicians sorted out their differences, moved to the coastal city of Aden and concluded a landmark deal – it all took just three days. They stayed in the same hotel, dined together and at all times maintained the most cordial relations, in stark contrast to the bitter words they had been exchanging ever since they were respectively elected head of state and Speaker of the House.
To many Somalis, it was an unexpected Idd-el-Adha gift because when the two men met in Yemen mid last year, they agreed to disagree on every national issue they discussed, between the so-called Ministers in Mogadishu Group led by the speaker and the main government body that opted to make Jowhar town, 90 km north of the capital, the temporary base of the government.
JUST THREE days after the signing on January 5 of the now popular Aden Agreement, the residents of a neighbourhood in Mogadishu decided to confront an armed group that had established a roadblock at Adan Adde junction in Wardhighley district. Youngsters from the area volunteered to challenge the dozen men who were demanding leejo, an unlawful payment, from passing vehicles at gunpoint.
The confrontation between the volunteer youngsters and the armed group took place on January 7; it marked the first time communities in Mogadishu had opted to challenge the city's heavily armed militias. For days afterwards, many city dwellers were visiting the area to confirm for themselves that the area was truly free from armed groups.
ON JANUARY 6, a roadblock was re installed at Bakara crossroads, a strategic section of the heavily used Wadnaha Street. A group of armed militia claiming to be loyal to the Minister of Internal Security, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, manned the roadblock, demanding leejo.
The public reaction was one of outrage, as people could not believe that someone claiming to be a government minister could allow armed youth to harass people, especially motorists and their passengers. The "Minister in Mogadishu" did not issue a statement disassociating himself from the youngsters’ acts, further infuriating the city’s residents.
In Karan district, a stronghold of Al-Hajji Muse Sudi Yalahow, the Minister of Commerce, the situation is even worse. There are armed youth everywhere and gunfire is frequent, giving the lie to the minister's claim that he would make the city completely free from violence.
The growing expression of opposition to warlords in Mogadishu is an obvious reaction to their obstruction of the president and the prime minister. Their promises to disarm their forces have not materialised and the militia they assembled at two camps outside the capital have long been disbanded.
The "Ministers in Mogadishu" promised to set up an administration for the capital, despite being warned against doing something they where not mandated for, because the premier and his executive Cabinet were not involved. They set up a 64-member council in December 2005, but the warlords now appear to be unhappy with the city council whose formation they masterminded.
City residents are little sure that the new council is going to be effective because its architects are already squabbling over how to control it. Each warlord wanted to have influence over the council, but local assembly members have begun to follow more independent lines.
The "Ministers in Mogadishu" know that their failure to control the council they initiated is likely to cost them a lot of political capital.
Soon after the formation of the TFG in Nairobi, the tsunami hit the Somali coast. No real state response took place since an internal rift immediately paralysed the new governmnt.
SECURITY IN Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, has never been assured as disarmament plans were not allowed to be implemented. Igadsom, a mission to deploy forces from the Igad states to help the disarmament of the armed groups in the country, was made impossible by the "Ministers in Mogadishu" causing a hullabaloo about foreign intervention.
Abdulkadir Khalif is freelance journalist based in Mogadishu