Somalia - It Happened Again


It happened yet again. This time it was on a Friday evening, just before the weekend. Usually, it happens around the holidays. Either right before or smack in the middle of it. Sometimes you wonder whether it is a coincidence or it is a strategy. Maybe it is both.
The fact remains that emergencies are commonplace in East and Central Africa. There is never a dull moment here and poor people, particularly women and children, bear the brunt. For me it is just a missed holiday or a shortened break but the knowledge of the suffering in this region is always with us.

This time around it was Somalia, as it often is. Not coincidentally, it is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth to work in. Without a functioning government for the past 17 years, lawlessness prevails and AK47s are in fashion all year round. After a while you get used to seeing them strapped around people”s bodies or held tightly by young boys who under normal circumstances would be in school playing football (soccer in the US).

When Somalia becomes a headline news item, it is either because something really bad has happened or because nothing as serious has happened elsewhere. In other words, Somalia”s tragedy is always relevant but because tragedy has become the norm, it is only noticed when it peaks. Lately, it has been peeking a lot.

First, it was the drought, two years in a row hitting a country where people”s assets are so meager that any shock can be fatal. Secondly, is the continued fighting between the Ethiopian-backed government and the Islamic Courts. Thirdly, are the pirate attacks on the ships carrying goods from the Middle East to Africa and vice-versa. Recently, the latest ship to be attacked was transporting a large load of weapons, including a couple of tanks.

Next, it is the global rise in food and fuel prices that has taken a major hit on people”s daily lives. The price of rice, sorghum and maize’”common staples in Somalia’”have risen almost 200% this year alone. The cost of a 20-liter-can of water has risen by 300%. The price of medicines has risen by 600% and the list goes on.

Finally, there is the continuous threat of kidnappings and killings. This year, aid workers have become favorite targets of the various militia groups. 24 have been gunned down since the start January while 10 remain hostage, two of whom are CARE staff.

The result of all this madness is that more than 3 million people depend on external humanitarian assistance according to a recent United Nations assessment. 2.6 million are internally displaced and are living in makeshift camps. The capital Mogadishu has become a ghost town, a permanent setting for eerie films and surreal landscapes.

This time around, it was an explicit threat to CARE and to another aid agency by the spokes person of a local militant group; a warning and a call to stop all our life-saving activities immediately. A chilling statement broadcast over a local radio station that leaves us stunned and jeopardizes the delivery of aid to one million Somalis who depend on external assistance for survival. It is not a nice position to be in.