Perhaps you think you’ve seen it, heard it all before. Hunger in the Horn of Africa. Famine once again spreading in Somalia. It is an old headline, I suppose, it certainly has happened before, but that doesn’t lessen the horror of it: the sickening stench of a hospital room filled with dying children; the shock of seeing row after row of tiny, freshly dug graves.
It is hard to know what to say. There are statistics of course. An estimated 29,000 children under the age of five dead in the last three months. 3.2 million people in Somalia in need of immediate, life saving assistance. Well over two million Somalis have had to flee their homes to the capital Mogadishu or to neighboring countries. The numbers are numbing.
I am in Dadaab in Kenya, near the border of Somalia. There’s a network of refugee settlements here, in fact it’s now the largest refugee camp in the world. It was built twenty years ago to hold ninety thousand people, but there are now more than 400,000 here, and tens of thousands more camping in makeshift huts on the outskirts. What’s infuriating is that there is a camp that was built in 2010 that can house 80,000 more refugees, but the Kenyan government won’t allow it to open.
They are concerned about a whole generation of Somali refugees settling here. “The only solution is peace in Somalia,” one young refugee said to me, but the chances of that are remote. In fact the crisis taking place here is not just a result of the drought which is the worst one in sixty years, and high food prices, it’s also a result of the conflict which has made Somalia one of the most dangerous places on the planet. A terrorist group of Islamic extremists called the Al Shabaab has for the last several years been fighting for control of the country. In areas under Al Shabaab’s control they’ve instituted strict sharia law, and outlawed vaccinations for kids claiming they were a plot by the West to kill children. They’ve also kidnapped and killed aid workers, and prevented them from distributing food. Al Shabaab control much of southern Somalia. And that is where the drought has hit hardest.
I was in Somalia nineteen years ago this month reporting on the famine then. Some 300,000 thousand people died and thought the US/UN intervention saved many more lives by insuring food was delivered to those in need, more than 40 US troops were killed during Operation Restore Hope. Nineteen years later, it is depressing to be back. This famine was preventable. Warnings had been issued for a long time. The drought is not a sudden surprise. In parts of Kenya and Ethiopia, agricultural programs backed by US aid have improved agricultural output and helped those nations lessen the impact of the drought on some of their people, but in Somalia it is hard to create positive change when there is no real functioning government and Al Shabaab have proven the only thing they can do is destroy and kill. We will be broadcasting from here tonight, and inside Somalia tomorrow. I hope you tune in. I know some of it will be hard to watch, but turning away does nothing to alleviate their pain. So many here have already died unnecessary deaths, they’ve died on the side of the road, away from their homes, trying to get help. They’ve died in silence, and nothing remains to show that they ever existed at all.
Filed under: Anderson Cooper
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