A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
On 23 February heads of state, officials and Ban Ki-moon will meet in London to discuss the security threats posed by Somalia and the future of its Government.
Although the causes of the problems Somalia faces lies primarily in the country itself, where warring factions are accused of impeding and diverting aid flows, policies of other countries have also had a major impact. These policies focused more on international security concerns than on the needs, interests and wishes of the Somali people have inadvertently fuelled both the conflict and the humanitarian crisis.
You may remember seeing the pictures as people in Somalia tried to deal with the worst food crisis the country has faced for years. Although the images have left our screens largely, the bare numbers from the crisis reveal starkly what Somalis have faced. Tens of thousands of people have died over the last few months. 2.4 million people are still in need of urgent aid while 325,000 children are still suffering from acute malnutrition.
The London Somalia Conference
International concern about Somalia is not new: the country has not had a functioning national government for two decades. Somalis have tried various ways to organize the country. But sadly these efforts have been overshadowed by conflict and power struggles in the country, in which the interests of most Somalis have been ignored. Participants at the London Somalia conference want to discuss a long list of issues: security, political process, local stability, counter-terrorism, piracy, humanitarian issues, and international coordination.
Unfortunately, in discussing these problems ministers and officials are falling into the same trap that they have for decades – ignoring the voices of the Somali people. Somalia is much more than just terrorism and piracy.
What the Somali people want
Somalis we speak with tell us they want to go about their daily lives, free from the brutal disruption of war and famine, where they could earn a secure income to afford to feed their families everyday and send their children to school. They’re asking the international community to prioritize meeting the basic needs of Somalis immediately, so that they can recover their lives and dignity and build their country back from two decades of conflict.
As the international community is already intent on continuing to intervene, they should at least listen to what Somalis’ priorities are. Hadija*, 50, from Galgadud region, for example says they “should help the jobless youth and generate employment and vocational skills training in order to dissuade the youth from joining the criminal activities. We need support to strengthen local and community-owned administrations, and help us to build schools and hospitals. What Somalis need is to bring sustainable peace and security, allowing women and children to live without fear.”
A shift in focus is needed
In a new report - A Shift in Focus: Putting the interests of Somalis first - Oxfam sets out an agenda for the conference which shifts the emphasis away from security concerns and takes practical steps towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict and crisis.
Firstly the conference must recognize that Somalia is still facing a catastrophic humanitarian emergency with millions people in need of urgent aid. While drought conditions are improving in some parts of the country, renewed fighting continues to force people to flee their homes and farms to neighbouring countries or other parts of the country. The world’s attention must not turn away from this humanitarian crisis.
The international community also needs to address the fact that the lines have blurred between humanitarian and military intervention, compromising the independence of aid agencies to deliver vital aid to those who need it most. We need a renewed international drive to allow unrestricted, independent humanitarian access to those who need lifesaving aid and support to rebuild their lives.
A new approach to Somalia is urgently needed. Somali women and men are asking for a greater say in efforts to bring about peace and security in their country. After more than 20 years of outside intervention that has failed to resolve the conflict, the international community must support a peace process that includes Somalis and reflects their needs, interests and wishes. The world’s response to terrorism must not make things worse for Somalis trying to live a normal life. More conflict will not solve conflict.
There will be no lasting solution to Somalia’s problems unless it is owned by the Somali people. Decades of international interference focused primarily on security and counter terrorism concerns have inadvertently fuelled instability and increased humanitarian needs. The international community can play a positive role, but it must support Somali-led solutions putting the interests of Somalis first.
* Not her real name
Download the report: A Shift in Focus: Putting the interests of Somali people first
Read more on the Drought and Conflict in Somalia
Follow Ed Pomfret on twitter @EdPomfret.