News / Africa

Mogadishu Mayor Says Aid Not Reaching Famine Victims

Gabe Joselow

More than 300,000 Somalis have fled to the capital Mogadishu in the past few months to escape famine and conflict in other parts of the country.  The city, which lies in rubble from years of conflict, already has enough challenges.

Mogadishu Mayor Mohammed Ahmed Noor has his hands full.  Just a year into office, Noor is witnessing a massive influx of internally displaced people who are overwhelming his city's meager infrastructure.

Noor says there are hundreds of camps already.  One of the largest is called Badbaado, a name that means "rescue."

"I believe even that camp there are 4,927 families, multiply it by seven, because average  family of Somalis consist of 7.  If you multiply, that's 35,000 almost - 35,000 individuals in one camp.  How can you sustain in a month without any help?  We cannot sustain, we cannot continue, I'm telling you, we cannot continue. And I think there will be a time when we collapse and say that's it," said Noor.

The refugees come from the Bay and Bakool regions, and other parts of southern Somalia that have fallen into famine.

Definition of Famine:

The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:

  • Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
  • More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
  • Severe lack of food access for large population

Current Famine:

    Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 per cent in some areas. The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.

    The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.

    Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:

  • Somalia 1991-1992
  • Ethiopia 1984-1985
  • Ethiopia 1974

Many arrive hungry, weak and sick after the long journey. Residents at the camp say they receive very little assistance, except for some food provided by the local community.

Noor complains that food provided by aid agencies is sitting in warehouses and not being distributed to the people.  But he's reluctant to try to distribute it himself.

"I cannot do it, because if a U.N. Agency - for example, if I say, ok, I will use authority and I will order that all the food should be shipped to the people, then there would be a criticism and they will say he looted," Noor added.  "That's what they would say.  They will not say he distributed the food to the people, they will say the mayor looted the food and I don't want that to happen."

Catherine Bragg, assistant U.N. secretary-general and deputy emergency relief coordinator spoke to the Security Council on Wednesday and said that humanitarian operations in Mogadishu were complex and increased aid distribution was not something that could be done quickly.  

Aside from the food crisis, one of the biggest challenges facing Mogadishu has been an insurgency by the al-Qaida linked militant group al-Shabab.

The militants had controlled large parts of Mogadishu for years, until the group announced its withdraw from the city last week.

The Bakara market in Mogadishu use to be a bustling center of commerce in the Somali capital. But that was before the al-Shabab militants moved into the area. Gabe Joselow filed this report from the scene.

Mayor Noor now has his city back and says this marks the beginning of the end of al-Shabab.

"[The] Shabab ideology is dead," added Noor.  "Nobody will buy that idea.  It was based on oppression, it was based on blood, it was based on displacement, it was based on darkness, it was based on hunger and poverty.  [The] Somali people rejected that.  They cannot survive in Somalia anymore."

Even with al-Shabab gone, Mogadishu, a city without basic services, like clean water or a fire department, is a long way from being stable.  And Mayor Noor, whose nickname is Tarzan, will have to face the challenges that lie ahead.

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