The militant group al-Shabab has rejected the United Nation’s declaration of famine in parts of Somalia. It says the U.N.’s announcement is “hundred percent false and propaganda.”
E.J. Hoogendorn, the Horn of Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, said he was surprised the militant group could deny the famine in southern Somalia.
The opinion of the Crisis Group, he said, “was that given the number of refugees flowing across the border into the camps in Kenya and in Ethiopia that there is a huge food emergency in southern Somalia and that it probably is a famine.”
Although some aid groups have been banned from Somalia for more than two years by al-Shabab, said Hoogendorn, ”it is important to remember that the militant group is not monolithic. “There are other elements – more pragmatic ones – that care about the local population.”
He acknowledged the area is insecure but noted that many of the humanitarian organizations have worked in difficult environments in the past and with support from local authorities they could operate safely in Somalia.
Hoogendorn dismissed concerns that al-Shabab militants might take advantage of the food aid to the drought-stricken areas, but he said, “The reality is that it would be almost impossible to ensure that all aid goes directly to those populations in need.”
Aid organizations, he said, should do everything they can to ensure the assistance they give goes to the starving people who desperately need it. “International aid organizations should work with local authorities and groups to supervise and monitor the provision of assistance to these populations.”
He said the assistance from the international community should be short-term and that every effort should be made to ensure that the refugees are able to go back to their fields and plant when the rains return.
“Clearly, supporting large refugee camps across the border is far from ideal and we hope that they are only temporary solutions,” he said.
Hoogendorn emphasized that the temporary solution is feeding the starving but that the long-term resolution to the problem is peace and stability in south and central Somalia. That, he said, “requires a political solution.”