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Somalia Called Chronic Catastrophe

  • Joe DeCapua

Somalia has been mired in conflict for the past 20 years. It is home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, with millions needing food assistance and hundreds of thousands displaced.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden is visiting the country this week, stopping Tuesday in Garrowe, capital of the Puntland region.

He says, “I think Somalia has, as a result of 20 years without a government in many parts of the country, become a very difficult, chronic catastrophe.”

“It means very few children have had the experience for formal education, limited opportunities for secondary education,” he adds.

Humanitarian assistance

Bowden says, “Clearly, the conflict has taken its toll on the civilian population, who’ve borne the brunt of the conflict over many years. And also, I think what’s developed is it’s a war economy in the country… and provides difficulties for everyday life.”

Despite the problems, humanitarian agencies are able to reach many people, but with some limitations.

“We’re actually able to reach all parts of the country, but not with every form of assistance that’s required," he said. I mean, remarkably, it has been possible for U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations to work in very difficult circumstances across the board.”

The newest challenge is that Somalia is entering another cycle of severe drought and Bowden is concerned about getting food aid to all those in need.

“We are able to get health assistance, water assistance and also to provide support for nutritional supplements, but that won’t be enough,” he noted.


The Afgooye corridor lies to the northwest of Mogadishu, and it’s been the destination for many Somalis who have fled the capital’s ongoing fighting between forces supporting the Transitional Federal Government and Islamist militias, including al Shabab.

“The Afgooye corridor is host to one of the largest concentrations of internally displaced people, with some 350,000 people there," he said. "They are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance.”

They are expected to be among the first to feel the effects of food shortages that may occur because of the drought.

What more can be done?

“I think that there is a lot that can be done," he said. "We’re at the moment not just addressing humanitarian issues, but are launching a five-year development plan for Somalia. I would say that despite the fact that central and south Somalia is suffering considerably and have serious problems in security terms, other parts of Somalia have remained relatively stable.”

He says, in Somaliland, which is trying to be recognized as a separate country, there are many development opportunities.

“It is our responsibility to see that those are achieved to ensure stability in those areas where there is stability, such as Somaliland, Puntland and some emerging areas, to try and reestablish governments,” he said.

What’s more, Bowden says, “We have to focus on saving the jobs that are left, the livelihoods that exist, as part of the economic response, but also very much as a humanitarian response. If we don’t currently address the issue of potential loss of livelihood because of drought, we’ll have even more displaced people and a bigger problem on our hands.”

Somalia has seen civil war in one form or another since 1991, with the fall of the government of Mohammed Siad Barre.