Last week the UN revealed for the first time that more than a quarter of a million people died in Somalia over 18 months from October 2010-April 2012. These figures are shockingly high especially when you think about the fact that most of the deaths were probably preventable if the world had just reacted sooner to the warnings that were coming out of the region as the rains started to fail in 2010.
Famine is not a natural phenomenon. Drought is, and in Somalia rain failures were exacerbated by ongoing conflict. But as we showed in our Dangerous Delay report following the famine, if countries, aid agencies and the UN system had reacted sooner, the death toll would have been much less.
This is a stark reminder to world leaders meeting in London to talk about Somalia today that action is needed to help Somalis deal with the shocks that they face.
This means the International community and the Somali authorities must invest in long-term development. This involves “washing the face with the whole hand”*. We should be helping Somalis to rehabilitate water sources and rebuild roads. We should be supporting farmers to increase the reliability of their yields and pastoralists improve the health of their animals. We should be supporting small scale businesses, such as women milk sellers, and create a police force that protects people from crime. The Somali Federal Government should show it is serious about combating rape and sexual violence by investigating all rape accusations and making sure women have access to justice.
It is crucial that women and men from across Somalia are involved in a bottom up process to determine the country's future. Top down "solutions" don't work. The country is crying out for just and sustainable peace, and the new Government must grab this moment to secure it.
Meanwhile Oxfam has produced an exhibition of photos from across Somalia, highlighting Somalia’s rich culture and history – take a look at Somalia: A different perspective.
*“You can’t wash your face using only one finger” ("Far kaliya fool madhaqdo") is a common Somali proverb.