Somalia: Famine doesn’t exist in a vacuum

 The drought in Southern Somalia has escalated over the past few months ‘to the worst humanitarian disaster’ in the world. 

Millions of refugees are pouring out of drought ridden and war torn Somalia into Kenya and Ethiopia, countries that are already struggling with drought. The situation is dire and UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is asking for over $US144 million to support the relief effort. At this stage the most important task is logistically getting food and water to the thousands of people starving on Kenya and Ethiopia’s doorstep.

Last week The IKEA Foundation donated US$62 million to UNHCR’s huge Dadaab refugee complex in north-east Kenya and is the largest donation the agency has ever received and is expected to help up to 120 000 people. The $US62 million will be spread out over 3 years and is part of a wider partnership between UNHCR and The IKEA Foundation and “represents a new level for support to refugees from a private body”.

Humanitarian disaster relief is becoming a huge part of corporate community investment and while it is great to see this level of support from the corporate community, it is also important for corporations to educate themselves around the challenges of development and aid relief, in order to avoid common pitfalls and increase the effectiveness of community investment through the informed donation of money.

It is not only the current humanitarian disaster that needs to be considered but also the history of why a situation has occurred and what happens next to bring stability to communities so we can avoid future humanitarian disasters.

Two, recent and very informative documentaries about the drought in Somalia including: A Place in the Sand (Foreign Correspondent); and Somalia: How did it get to be like this? (ABC Radio Rear Vision program), provide some important information about the politics of aid in the Horn of Africa, I would recommend checking them out if you are thinking of donating. Here are some interesting quotes from these programs, that have informed me where I will donate my own money for the relief.


Something that is really frustrating aid workers at Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya is a building complex called ‘Ifo 2’.

The international aid agencies have spent millions of dollars building houses, water towers, even toilets here – but the camp is not being used.

This is very tricky territory for the aid agencies working here in Dadaab. Privately many here say the reason the new camps aren’t being opened up is because of the Kenyan Government’s fear of having more than a million Somali refugees sitting permanently inside its borders. (A Place in the Sand – Foreign Correspondent)

History and why – Dr Tanya Lyons explains:

The history of famine across the Horn of Africa: what we can learn from this is that we haven’t learned anything. These famines happen; they begin with a drought, they begin with unstable climactic conditions, they are a result of the arbitrary boundaries that were imposed during the colonial period, they are a result of the new nation-states not having the ability or the political will to create stability and security for those citizens because of the civil wars and civil conflict that arose in the 1990s and onwards in particular. There is a sense that human lives are quite cheap.

There’s nothing that … I don’t think there’s anything that the international community has learned, because what we need to prevent famine is to create peace and stability and good governance in those states. And in the last 25 years across the Horn of Africa, the international community and those nations themselves have had the chance to do this and yet it hasn’t been able to be achieved. (Tanya Lyons speaking to Kate Evans in ‘Somalia: How did it get to be like this?’)

While the donation of money to international agencies, like UNHCR, is encouraged – nothing exists in a vacuum, especially the dissemination of aid money in countries like Somalia. Strategic corporate community investment also needs to focus on prevention of humanitarian disaster and avoid the situation of aid dependency by providing people with tools to rebuild their communities, not just handing over blank cheques.


Image source

This is a cross post to CSR Asia weekly





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