Famine in Somalia

In case you missed Jeffrey Gettleman’s stunning expose of the near-famine conditions in Somalia, it is worth a read:

Somalia — and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter — was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine.

But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst.

This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos.

“We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.

There has been a collision of troubles throughout the region: skimpy rainfall, disastrous harvests, soaring food prices, dying livestock, escalating violence, out-of-control inflation, and shrinking food aid because of many of these factors.

The UN has branded the situation in Somalia a “humanitarian emergency” — the final step before an official famine, which is likely just weeks away. This news only further accentuates the need for a credible peacekeeping force in Somalia, as well as continued investment in both humanitarian assistance and political negotiations. As Gettleman’s article reminds us, the ramifications of famine cannot be divorced from the panoply of other factors exacerbating Somalia’s plight. Across the border in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, there are signs that the Ethiopian government is manipulating an equally dire food crisis to snuff out an insurgency. In Somalia’s violent landscape, such a tactic is unfortunately not far from the realm of possibility.