Understanding Famine in Somalia

Name: Daniel Afonso de Solar Student number: 08753644 Understanding Famine: Famine is usually understood to be a decline in food availability. A sudden, sharp reduction in food in any particular geographic locale usually results in widespread hunger and famine. Understanding Somalia’s famine or any famine goes far beyond the traditional generalist statement mentioned above. A complex environment influences Somalia’s current and previous famines. Political instability, an undefined economic frame and armed conflict are almost always constant throughout Somalia’s history.

Somalia has been a battleground in which 300000-400000 people have died as a result of its civil war that has been ongoing since 1991. Somalia’s other war is hunger with global acute malnutrition, GMA exceeding 38%. War and hunger are a never ending story in Somalia, a vicious circle where war and the chaos created by it make it really difficult for any genuine change to take place to tackle the hunger problem. War comes first and then the rest: politics, economy and its people. Most countries are subject to their economy Somalia is subject to its conflict and like in everything the weakest are those who suffer the most.

Food availability is not the problem; the problem is an economic disaster, a political chaos and above all its civil war. To try to understand Somalia’s famine, it is important to have a first glance at its politics. Somalia is a failed state its the international recognized government, the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) in control of only a small part of the country, there is other 7 factions which controls different areas of the country, with a terrorist organization ruling the largest area.

A political chaos where there is no stability whatsoever with uncertainty being a constant. While 14 reconciliation attempts have taken place, none of them have been successful. When taking into consideration the countries’ politics, government policies or government institutions are out of place in someway as politics and institutions are non-existent on a broader sense and are unable to deal in any way with the hunger problem. It is this absence of a defined political system or clear regional frame, which makes famine an easier event to take place in Somalia.

With several armed factions trying to seek power and kill the other there is no time for policies, achievement of millennium development goals or an economic framework. Political instability in Somalia makes access to the country also difficult for humanitarian aid as the power structure and regional distribution of power are chaotic and unclear, you don’t or cannot know who is in charge so an special approach is needed. As famine is generally related to scarcity and high prices of food, Somalia’s economy is subject to its civil war and its reliance on livestock, crop production and international aid.

With a civil war in place trade becomes a difficult process, where resources are used for war financing. As the legal frame becomes more unclear and people flee the country as refugees with the war in process, also ownership rights becomes chaotic. Food prices become highly volatile and increase to huge levels relative to income levels. Food becomes a currency in some ways used as debt repayment with the gap between rural and urban households increased. The food is a luxury good, and profits are made. Those who has food do well by speculation meanwhile those whom don’t, perish.

International aid find it more difficult to access a country in war and even more difficult to access rural areas with the poorest households. Therefore economics forces leads to a situation where even with enough food in stock to supply the country, its high prices and the economy’s forces leads to the poorest and weakest ending up dying because they have no food, here is where famine losses its traditional approach: The agricultural sector accounts for 65% of the nationals GDP and employs 65% of the workforce.

Somalia’s exports account for 270 million annually with a 170 million deficit, a deficit offset by the payment transfers by Somalia’s in the Diaspora, payments estimated to add up to about 1 billion. As long as this data’s veracity goes with the current war situation and division of the country there is the fact that food is leaving the country in the form of exports. The under 5-death rate has surpassed 4/10000 in all southern area, an area mostly controlled by the radical Islamism organization Al Shabaab.

Food as a good is not scarce but expensive within a war-zone where hunger is also a weapon. An ongoing civil war since 1991 is the igniter that makes this country an economic/political failure with famine as the final product. Famine fluctuates with war, so famine is an expected event, that’s comes and goes. As long as there will be civil war. With the current division of the country and the current uprising of a Al Shabaab makes the nation a war -zone with almost 8 front lines. This is all we have to understand about Somalia’s famine: a process that has no solution with a war in place.

Countries in Africa that are not in war find it difficult to approach poverty and development issues. Somalia, a country listed as last in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International in 2009 and ranked next to last between Iraq and Afghanistan by the Institute for Economy and Peace on its Global Peace Index (GPI), it is easy to assume that this country has a long way to go, to even think about the famine as an approachable issue in the current situation.

War is just the engine of this chaotic situation within Somalia where a vicious circle is the non-exit spiral of hunger and war. Understanding Somalia’s famine comes simply to a never-ending civil war where prosperity and development are not even on the agenda of any of the factions. At the moment there is no solution for Somalia’s situation as long as the country is immerse in this chaotic war, a conflict forgotten by the west.

There is not enough humanitarian aid to make a difference with the current situation, Somalia’s civil war is a burden for the country’s future, there is no state or institutions to rely on, there is war and chaos. War is all there is to understand. A conflict that for some reason has not received the attention of the west, that is usually always ready to export “freedom” and “democracy”. The west is not prisoner of some questionable ethic values but prisoner of their economies; Somalia is prisoner of its war.

Famine is just the product of what war has brought to the country, and the weakest are always the ones to suffer the most. The idea of a capable state and institutions with easier regional trade and a balanced supply and demand economy are just a chimera under the current situation. With war being the problem and peace the complex solution, international commitment is the key. Famine will be part of Somalia as long as the conflict continues. Development is a difficult task as long as civil war brings with it: economic disaster and a political chaos.