Starving Somalis trapped by Islamists
A monumental tragedy is shaping up in Somalia and it is totally man made.
At least 3 million Somalis are at risk of starvation because the terrorist group Shabab is blocking them from leaving the country or traveling to find food. The crisis was precipitated when Shabab kicked western aid groups out of the areas they control while denying there was any famine at all.
The Shabab Islamist insurgent group, which controls much of southern Somalia, is blocking starving people from fleeing the country and setting up a cantonment camp where it is imprisoning displaced people who were trying to escape Shabab territory.
The group is widely blamed for causing a famine in Somalia by forcing out many Western aid organizations, depriving drought victims of desperately needed food. The situation is growing bleaker by the day, with tens of thousands of Somalis already dead and more than 500,000 children on the brink of starvation.
Every morning, emaciated parents with emaciated children stagger into Banadir Hospital, a shell of a building with floors that stink of diesel fuel because that is all the nurses have to fight off the flies. Babies are dying because of the lack of equipment and medicine. Some get hooked up to adult-size intravenous drips - pediatric versions are hard to find - and their compromised bodies cannot handle the volume of fluid.
Most parents do not have money for medicine, so entire families sit on old-fashioned cholera beds, with basketball-size holes cut out of the middle, taking turns going to the bathroom as diarrhea streams out of them.
"This is worse than 1992," said Dr. Lul Mohamed, Banadir's head of pediatrics, referring to Somalia's last famine. "Back then, at least we had some help."
That help was in the form of some very tough US Marines who guarded aid trucks and secured food distribution centers while refurbishing the port of Mogadishu and building warehouses and other infrastructure to feed millions.
Now, aid groups wait in Mogadishu, but with little or no security cannot do much to help the starving:
People from those areas who were interviewed in Mogadishu say Shabab fighters are blocking rivers to steal water from impoverished villagers and divert it to commercial farmers who pay them taxes. The Shabab are intercepting displaced people who are trying to reach Mogadishu and forcing them to stay in a Shabab-run camp about 25 miles outside the city. The camp now holds several thousand people and receives only a trickle of food.
"I was taken off a bus and put here," said a woman at the camp who asked not to be identified.
Several drought victims who have succeeded in making it to Mogadishu said that the Shabab were threatening to kill anyone who left their areas, either for refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, or for government zones in Somalia, and that the only way out was to sneak away at night and avoid the main roads.
Would you support another Somali rescue operation (without the nation building nonsense that led to Blackhawk Down)? By necessity, we would be sending troops to fight in a civil war on the side of one Muslim fundamentalist group who is fighting another. The African Union and UN cannot assure the security of aid workers or food supplies. Only the US, with our ability to deploy the necessary troops quickly and decisively, would be able to stem the tide of starvation.
It's a poor choice - one I'm glad I don't have to make.