Somalia, land of the forgotten

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With famine swallowing more areas in Somalia, the country is plunging into historically tragic proportions. More children are dying of hunger every day; international assistance is painfully slow and the international community is inexcusably oblivious of the dire straits threatening the lives of millions in the African country.

Among the most heart-rending stories regarding Somalia was the report that over 29,000 children under the age of five have perished over the past three months due to a lack of food and a severe drought that has 3.2 million people in its claws. The United Nations says 3.7 million people face starvation. To crown it all, the combination of drought, conflict and poverty has been conducive to the outbreak of famine. The current drought is the worst in more than half a century affecting the lives of 10,000 Somalis. Over 166,000 Somalis have fled for their lives to neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Kenya and the United Nations have been severely lambasted for the continued closure of a multimillion-pound refugee camp left empty in spite of the crisis which is gradually bringing the African country to its helpless knees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is accused of evading striking a deal with Kenya to open up a camp that cost international donors $60m (£37m) to build and has been left unused and locked since last November.

"To the thousands of desperate Somalis arriving every day, the sight of a fully equipped refugee camp standing empty must be the ultimate rebuke," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. The New York-based watchdog has demanded that the Kenyan government immediately open up the extra camp adjacent to the existing Dadaab complex of refugee camps in northern Kenya, which now shelters 440,000 people, according to a report in The Independent.

The crisis is also exacerbated by piracy in the country.

"Absolutely, piracy is very much a concern and not abating at all," the African Development Bank’s chief economist Mthuli Ncube told the Guardian. "It hampers the delivery of food aid. Some has to be flown in, which has an impact on cost, or it has to go to ports like Mombasa, Kenya, and then be driven overland, which takes time."

A new report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) reveals that piracy has long been a problem for aid efforts to Somalia as 80%-90% of food aid arrives by sea. The World Food Programme (WFP), the UN’s food aid agency, reported in 2007 that the ships that could carry food aid had been cut by half because of the grave threat of the pirates in Somali waters.

The UN released a report on Wednesday and revealed that cereal prices had reached records high in the Horn of Africa, exacerbating an already precarious situation for the millions of the starving population.

The Food and Agriculture Organization also said that price of milk had reached a very high peak.

The images of the gaunt faces and twig-like bodies of Somali kids are enough to make every human eye wet with tears and every heart bleed with pain.

The US government is spending millions of dollars every day on its warmongering adventures in the region. Only in Libya, it is reportedly spending more than ten million dollars a day. Just imagine in the first four days of the US-led military strike on Libya, about 162 Tomahawk missiles were launched at Libyan targets in the Operation Odyssey Dawn which cost more than $1 million each. The F-15E fighter plane that was lost to mechanical failure cost about $30 million.

According to a report published in The Washington Post, experts from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment released a study estimating that a limited no-fly zone such as the one established over the Libyan population areas could cost $30 million to $100 million a week.

The US has spent millions of dollars on its military escapades in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. By indulging in different military adventures, the US government keeps lurching from one quagmire to another, leaving the country in debt and financial crisis. However, apart from the costs inflicted on the American citizens, it is also exacting a toll on the whole region by creating insecurity and crisis.

Isn’t it time for the US government to be jolted into the bitter reality that instead of waging wars here and there in the world and playing havoc with the lives and fates of millions of people around the world and spending millions of US dollars, they could feed the starved Africans and help the global community and, say, be constructive rather than destructive?

Isn’t it time for the international community to perceive the truth that they need to take speedy measures before it is too late to help the desperate people threatened by starvation in Africa and elsewhere?

Let us hope Somalia does not become another case of too little too late.

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