Opinion: On the U.N.'s Declaration that Famine in Somalia is Over

As of February 3rd, 2012, the United Nations has declared that the famine in Somalia is over. I raised my eyebrow at their short-sighted definition of famine.

".famine conditions are no longer present," said a statement from the office of Mark Bowden, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

Todays hunger and food insecurity is a result of yesterdays mismanagement of natural resources and inequitable access to food. I have emphasized this in my previous work- famine is a political problem. Famine is about a failure of political and economic systems, and implicates problems far more entrenched than a shortage of food. Food is not the only answer to famine any more than bottled water is the only answer to water shortages. Address long-term issues, too. So for the UN to declare that the famine in (southern) Somalia is over is short-sighted and dangerous. Are the systems in place to provide food security and avert another famine?

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Has the displacement of Somalis due to continued conflict between the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and opposing organizations been addressed? The answer is no. The escalation of foreign military involvement/intervention in Somalia, suggests that displacement and food insecurity won't go away.

Also, consider the cycle of aid monies. When the United Nations declares the famine in (southern) Somalia to be over, the aid halts, ensuring that funds will not be available for more systemic solutions. Another factor to consider is the marriage between journalism and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and how representations of crisis can determine the flow of aid. I discussed this topic in a piece entitled African Governments, NGOs & Civil Society: A Crisis of Legitimacy?, starting off with the question of whether and how representations of Africa benefit international NGOs.

The bottom line is this: the myriad issues of famine, food insecurity, land degradation, internal/external displacement and dispossession of peoples due to continued conflict are not solved with short-term aid that neglects long-term needs. Nor are these issues solved by declarations from supranational organizations.

Posted in Community groups Post Date 07/15/2017