Politics: Famine in the Horn of Africa, by Pranada Devi

It is difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of suffering and starvation which is currently taking place in the Horn of Africa (the portion of the east coast of the continent which juts out towards the Middle East, containing Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya). It may be even more difficult to imagine how to solve the problem. In this column, I will attempt to at least give an introduction to the situation, as well as provide reference for further reading.

The climate in the Horn of Africa often goes through periods of drought. This year, a particularly strong La Nina effect is said to have contributed to lack of rain in the region this year and last. The rain shortage between April and June was so severe that crops failed and livestock died. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network feared as early as last year that drought and famine were likely.

This summer, the situation in Somalia was considered the worst drought in decades, and famine was declared. As of the time this article went to print, the United Nations had warned that four million people were in crisis and 750,000 were at risk of death.

The most significant barrier to relief efforts is political. The Al-Shabaab terrorist group controls much of Somalia. This organization has not allowed the population a chance to organize itself to address the challenges, nor has it appealed to other nations for assistance. The government of Somalia has even denied the existence of the famine. It has given, and then rescinded, permission to the international community to come and give assistance.

In other words, the issue is not that relief organizations do not have the resources to feed hungry people, but that they are being obstructed from doing so. Attempting to reach people who desperately need food could even endanger the lives of relief workers.

When we learn about this political situation, we may become upset and angry. Some may even be tempted to try to fight past the political roadblocks to deliver relief efforts.

But this path has been attempted in the past. In 1992, when Somalia was experiencing civil war and famine, military intervention was attempted under the banner “Operation Restore Hope”. But “peacemaking” efforts failed. Many lives were lost in battle, and Somalia was left with no more stable a government than before this intervention.

So how do we activate in the face of such a tragedy? We have a few options. We can donate to international relief organizations with good track records for delivering aid – such as, to my knowledge, Red Cross, Unicef and Doctors Without Borders. We can also inquire into the contributing factors that have given a terrorist organization such power (a subject beyond the scope of this column).

We can also remember that we are all interconnected. Whatever we do to relieve suffering, wherever we are, benefits us all. We can plant trees. We can reduce our consumption. We can volunteer in a local food bank. We can send light to Somalia and to the entire world. I encourage you to find the path of activation that is most rooted, vital and expansive for you.

For further reference:
Salon.com: When Food Shortages Mean War
The Nation: The World Food Crisis
The Guardian: Somalia: victim of war, famine and a pestilence of policy
New York Times
Wikipedia: 2011 Horn of Africa Famine
Famine Early Warning Systems Network

Médecins sans Frontières: A Reality Check on Somalia

Diet For A Small Planet
Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet For A Small Planet


Pranada Devi is a government communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She manages the Politics, Books and Activism sections for Parvati Magazine in addition to serving as Managing Editor for the magazine overall. She has followed politics at all levels for two decades. She serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.