National Sections of the L5I:

Somalia’s Growing Famine

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Somalia, as well as parts of Ethiopia and northern Kenya, is once again facing severe famine because of extreme and worsening drought in the Horn of Africa. It is already the longest in 40 years, as a result of three consecutive failures of the rainy season. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, there is a high chance of drier-than-average conditions continuing across the region. On top of the drought, there is the issue of escalating price rises for the very necessities of life. According to the African Development Bank, food inflation on the continent stands at 40 percent.

Subsistence farmers and pastoralists have seen over three million of their animals die and been forced to flee to makeshift displaced persons’ camps consisting of flimsy tents and few facilities. More than 755,000 people have been internally displaced since January 2021, when the drought began, according to figures released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Agriculture accounts for up to 60 per cent of Somalia’s gross domestic product, 80 per cent of its employment, and 90 per cent of its exports. The country and its already impoverished people face absolute ruin. According to the World Food Programme, at least 7.1 million people (out of a total population of 16 million) already face acute food insecurity. By May this year, 1.5 million children were suffering malnutrition and the figure is undoubtedly much higher now after the scorching summer months. Famine has been declared in certain regions, but aid organisations are pleading for donor states not to hang back until a declaration for the whole country occurs.

The UN Food Aid Organisation is seeking supplies for 882,000 which will cost $131.4 million but as of 4 August this was only 46 per cent funded.

Compare this with the billions the USA and its NATO allies have been spending on their huge armaments programme since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The situation in the Horn of Africa has been made worse by the interruption of grain supplies by Putin’s occupation of southern Ukraine and the blocking of its ports. The first ship, sailing under a United Nations' flag, has only just arrived in Djibouti with 23,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat but that is destined for Ethiopia where the Tigrayan war has created a man-made famine. Many more shipments will be needed.

In 2011, a quarter of a million people in Somalia—half of them children—perished in a famine that followed a similar three-year failure of the rains. Less than half the aid that donor countries pledged to the humanitarian response was actually paid. Another famine occurred in 2017.

Worldwide, the UN says that over the past few years, the number of people “marching to starvation” around the world has increased from 80 million to 323 million, with 49 million people in 43 countries at risk of famine.

This increase in famines is clearly a part of climate change. It is already affecting a huge swathe of countries across the Sahel, the dry grasslands south of the Sahara Desert, and extending to the Horn of Africa, from Sudan in the North to Kenya in the south. The desertification of the region has social and political consequences, provoking murderous rivalry between nomads, pastoralists and farmers for scare land resources. Rebel groups and state forces are waging murderous conflicts in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Interventions by former colonialists like the French and the British, aided by United Nations and German “peacekeepers”, have usually made the situation worse. Bloody civil wars between and within Sudan and South Sudan, and most recently between Ethiopia and Tigray, all add to the misery of the people.

It is significant that this terrible situation in Africa occurs at the same time as the appalling suffering caused by flooding in Pakistan. But extreme weather events are also underway in North America, Europe and China. No moderately informed person can now seriously deny the extreme climate catastrophe whose manifestations - droughts, floods, wildfires and famines - the world is now facing.

Yet, after the fiascos of the Paris and Glasgow climate conferences, with their grandiose targets and speeches, no serious measures have been taken by the richer countries to realise them. No resources have been allocated to the lands where they are hitting today. Indeed, they are even returning to fossil fuels in the wake of the Ukraine war and the NATO sanctions.

The emerging famine in the countries of the Horn of Africa, highlights the fact, long predicted by activists, that it is people living in the global South who are its first victims, those who have, historically, the least responsibility for the emission of greenhouse gasses by industrialisation and the burning of fossil fuels.

World politics, the conflict between the great powers, as well as corrupt self-serving local elites they supported or installed, make matters even worse. Somalia itself has been suffering decades of civil war and interventions by UN forces, plus Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as the brutality of political Islamist forces like Al Shebab.

To Africa’s suffering from three centuries of plunder of its human and natural resources by Europeans, from the first slave traders to colonialists, is now being added increasing rivalry in the region between China and the West.

Today, it is clear that Somalia immediately needs a massive supply of food and accommodation, which the rich imperialist powers can well afford to give. But this will only be a sticking plaster on a gaping wound if it is not followed up by a programme of social spending on schools and universities, hospitals, infrastructure of all sorts and, vitally, measures to halt and reverse the degradation of the environment.

This is the “reparation” that Africa deserves, but it will never come from those who robbed the continent in the past and continue to rob it today. The working classes of Europe and North America need to inscribe righting this historic wrong into their programmes and their struggle for power, so that they can implement this in collaboration with the working class and small farmers of the global south to their and our mutual benefit.