Today,the International Red Cross began an enormous distribution of aide to one million people in famine zones in Somalia — the country with the highest malnutrition level in the world. The Red Cross is targeting areas controlled by Islamic militants; but will this kind of aide distribution be the solution to the 30,000 (and growing) people dying each day of famine?
Yes, al-Shabaab (Somalia’s largest Islamist militant group, which is currently fighting to overthrow the current transitional federal government) has been blocking foreign aide and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Yes, it theoretically makes sense to give food directly to those areas most affected by such a group. However, the notion that Red Cross aide and other foreign aide continue to propagate is that throwing money at the problem will somehow fix it.
The way western media is portraying this crisis, and the way western organizations are addressing it, are using terms that obscure the very man-made factors that created the crisis in the first place. The sad truth is that chronic malnutrition has been around for a while, that Somalians have been living in a warring country — between a transitional government, backed by Western nations and African Union troops, and Islamist opposition groups, like al-Shabaab — for twenty years.
While food and money may be helpful in the direct, short-term sense, in the long-term, it’s necessary to examine why Somalia has had such an extraordinarily adverse history and tackle those problems head on. Perhaps long-term financial support should be given to the African Union troops, or perhaps western organizations should focus on countering the corruption that leads to so much wholesale theft of food aid. Whatever the answer may be, it is certainly not a one-time food distribution.