In Somalia, a U.S.-led “war on terror” has led to a rise in extremism that has exacerbated the country’s famine, while in Yemen, a Saudi blockade has prevented much-needed food from reaching its people. And yet, many in the West remain unaware of their plight.
In a part of the world where little attention is given beyond the briefest of news flashes, there is an ongoing famine impacting countless lives. Spurred in part by both drought and war, a famine is now casting its long shadow over millions of people across the Middle East and many parts of Africa.
Foreign interventionism, U.S. arms manufacturing and humanitarian aid that often comes too little and too late have helped twist a knife in wounds made by war and colonialism. This endless, man-made cycle continues to unleash devastating consequences.
Somalia, where the U.S. has been waging a covert drone war, is no stranger to famine. Between 2011 and 2012, over 260,000 died, half of them children under the age of 5, making it the worst famine in the last 25 years. Data from Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) shows that 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under 5 died in southern and central Somalia alone during that time.
The report argues that a combination of events led to the devastating famine, starting with weather conditions, which were the driest seen in the eastern Horn of Africa in 60 years. The organization found that “the result was widespread livestock deaths, the smallest cereal harvest since the 1991-94 civil war, and a major drop in labor demand, which reduced household income.”
In addition, the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to southern Somalia in 2010 and 2011 was exceptionally low, “especially compared to 2008-2009, when food aid accounted for a significant proportion of national cereal supply.” Not mentioned in FSNAU’s report is the U.S.-led “war on terror” and wider counter-terrorism policies, which have brought about the rise of extremist groups like al-Shabaab.
These groups have used humanitarian aid as tools in their arsenal, largely due to not being able to trust Western aid. Madeleine Bunting, the associate editor for The Guardian, argues that “al-Shabaab’s suspicion is rooted in the experience of a decade of devious U.S. manipulation. Somalia has been the war on terror’s sideshow.”
The theft of resources and the wider impact of British colonialism in Somalia have left a mark on the country. In recent times, the United States has continued to pillage Somalia for resources while clamping down with military might. In 1993, during the Clinton presidency, images of famine and war were used by the administration to convince Americans that their support of U.S. military efforts was necessary – a kind of “humanitarian imperialism” that continues today.
“We went [to Somalia] because only the United States could help stop one of the great human tragedies of this time,” Clinton said. “In a sense, we came to Somalia to rescue innocent people in a burning house.” What Bill Clinton didn’t disclose was that the United States was one of the primary reasons why the house was on fire to begin with, and military efforts would not be putting out the flames.
In 2014, Somalia’s petroleum ministry accused the Norwegian oil company DNO of exploiting Somalia. In an official statement, the ministry argued that small [oil] companies “are destabilizing the country and destroying the international community’s effort to build the peace and the security of the country.” The ministry went on to accuse DNO of “introducing armed militiamen in areas already in conflict and thereby stoking old feuds which resulted in internal displacement and harming the innocent and the most vulnerable people.”
25-year-old Liban Adam, a Minnesota resident, and community organizer, told MintPress that the last two years have been especially difficult on the people of Somalia, compelling Adam, and other community members to start donation campaigns for famine relief. They managed to raise $200,000 in March.
“This last famine affected half of the population of Somalia, and this includes many families living in rural and urban settings. The impact from the lack of rain and emergency planning led to livestock not having enough food, and people not seeing crop output. It was a ripple effect and it touched many families in a personal way,” Adam said.
The reaction from the Somali diaspora has been swift and energized, with their mobilization efforts in Minnesota helping to provide aid to thousands by way of food distribution, water programs and medical emergency kits. Through organizations like The Somali Care Foundation, Adam and other members of his community are helping many victims of famine and hunger. “We aim to teach families to be sustainable and show them how they can move forward by themselves. We will continue to the find best solutions to help and fight poverty in any country that needs help,” he said.
Adam explained that members of Somalia’s diaspora community are mobilizing in any way that they can, “from collecting funds from events to spreading the message to popular singers and talking about the issues with those around them. In that moment there was a genuine sense of unity to fight against the famine, despite our differences,” he said.
Yemenis feeling brunt of Saudi blockade of food aid
In Yemen, Saudi coalition forces have killed entire families in bombing raids, right at the tail end of a war that is in its third year. Fuad Rajeh, a resident of Yemen’s city of Sana’a, told MintPress that what he’s witnessed in Yemen can only be described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
“People are dying from hunger or committing suicide because of it. In Sana’a, families are living in harsh conditions: many have one meal a day, and some can’t find a meal for days,” he said. The overall situation in Yemen is “catastrophic” in Rajeh’s words, and it is impacting everyone “without exception.”
According to Rajeh, nearly 21 million people across the country, or more than two-thirds of the population, are in desperate need of some kind of assistance. The United Nations has found that some 9.8 million Yemenis currently require immediate assistance in order to stay alive, while 10.8 million require humanitarian assistance “to stabilize their situation and to prevent them from slipping into acute need.”
In Taiz and Hodeidah, two of Yemen’s most densely-populated cities, the situation is steadily worsening. Due to the ongoing war and Saudi-led blockade, these cities are not receiving enough aid, including food and medical supplies. In Hodeidah, which is home to Yemen’s main port, war threatens to disrupt food access, as the port is the point of entry for almost 80 percent of the country’s food imports. Residents are now forced to starve to death, with little chance of escape.
Rajeh, a 39-year-old journalist and translator, has seen the impact of the war and famine first-hand. “My family is struggling like other families,” he admitted. “The war has affected everyone and every family in Yemen without exception. Everyone is suffering.”
Rajeh added that basic services in Yemen are collapsing, with many places having lacked food, water, medicine, electricity and security since April 2015. The country’s agricultural industry has also been heavily impacted by the war, as airstrikes that have targeted farms and wells have further compounded the nation’s suffering.
In regards to medicine, there are acute shortages of many pharmaceutical products, especially for those with chronic illnesses. The cost of medicine and other related products has increased dramatically. “Yemen’s health care system is collapsing,” Rajeh said.
“Less than 45 percent of the country’s hospitals are operational at the moment and are coping with huge challenges on top of which is a lack of medicine and other medical requirements and staff.” But despite warnings from relief agencies, Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the U.S., have continued to assist in the blockade and bombing of Yemen, with the U.S. providing arms. By blocking vital naval ports, Saudi Arabia is facilitating a famine that is unlike any other in recent memory.
Author and investigative journalist Gareth Porter argues that Saudi Arabia has been intentionally “choking off access to food and fuel for most of Yemen’s population” so as to increase pressure on the local resistance. Saudi Arabia’s tactics have included targeting emergency services, such as hospitals, and agricultural infrastructure that is already under pressure.
“The consequences of the blockade on the nutrition and health of the civilian population were bound to be devastating,” he writes. All the while, the previous U.S. administration was well aware of Saudi Arabia’s tactics and the current administration has renewed arms deals with the Kingdom. Despite Saudi Arabia’s flagrant human rights violations, they’ve managed to gain a 3-year seat at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, giving the Kingdom a chance to influence the self-described “principle human rights body.”
The sinister mix of warfare and drought has led to fast-spreading crop destruction, which has produced long-term agricultural impacts, including food shortages and starvation. All of this has resulted in the deaths of countless people who, for much of the outside world, do not exist. But as Rajeh and others explained, the impact this has had on these people has been immediate and unmeasurable.
The consequences of arms dealing and global warfare in Somalia, Yemen and other oft-forgotten countries serves as a prescient warning – should this continue, as many aid organizations believe it will, the results will be far more catastrophic for those most in need.