News / Africa

Senate Panel Examines US Aid Efforts to Famine Victims in Horn of Africa

Malnourished children from southern Somalia on a bed at Bandar hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, August 1, 2011
Malnourished children from southern Somalia on a bed at Bandar hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, August 1, 2011
Cindy Saine

A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to examine ways to respond to the worst drought and famine in the Horn of Africa in 60 years.  As Experts and lawmakers welcomed an announcement by the State Department that the United States is easing anti-terrorism financial sanctions against the Somalia-based terror group al-Shabaab to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to the region.

Related video by Laurel Bowman


Somalia is at the center of the drought and famine crisis.  The United Nations says more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of food aid.  And the world body has declared a famine in three new areas of Somalia.

Experts testifying at the African Affairs Subcommittee hearing said it is hard to fathom the scope of the crisis, which is spreading throughout the Horn of Africa.

Nancy Lindborg is with the U.S. Agency for International Development:

“We estimate that in the last 90 days, 29,000 Somali children have died," said Lindborg. "This is nearly four percent of the children in southern Somalia.”

Relief group leaders testifying at the hearing said more money for food aid is desperately needed from private individuals and governments, and they encouraged President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to encourage people to give to those in need in Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa.

One of the biggest obstacles to providing aid to Somalia has been violent action by the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabaab, which has dictated which aid groups are allowed in and demanded fees from relief groups trying to deliver food and water to those in need.  Sixty percent of those needing supplies in Somalia are in al-Shabaab-controlled territory.

The crisis has forced many Somalis to flee to neighboring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia or for areas of Somalia controlled by the government, where they can receive food aid.  But senior U.S. government officials and private experts told the panel that al-Shabaab is holding people against their will, preventing them from fleeing to areas where they can get food.

Donald Yamamoto is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department:

“Right now as an example, if you see the internally-displaced people right now, you are having about 100,000 or so south of Mogadishu, you are having at a rate of 1,000 a day going into those areas, you have al-Shabaab troops and shooters going into the areas and targeting refugees," said Yamamoto.

Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council research group agreed that al-Shabaab is partly responsible for the famine:

“I have reports from sources in the last 24 hours of at least three holding areas in lower Shabelle, where al-Shabaab forces are either using force or the threat there of to keep displaced people from leaving the territory and finding help," said Pham.

Pham said al-Shabaab draws much of its funding from cutting down trees to produce charcoal, which it then exports to the Persian Gulf.  This worsens the desertification problem.  Asked why the terrorist group is holding Somalis and preventing them from fleeing, Pham said its leaders might be speculating that where there are starving people, aid will eventually come, and that they could get part of it.

The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday that it is easing anti-terrorist financial sanctions against al-Shabaab to increase the flow of humanitarian aid.  Donald Yamamoto said that as long as relief groups engage in a “good faith” effort to ensure that aid goes to the needy and not to terrorists, relief groups will not have to worry about prosecution under Treasury Department regulations.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the hearing agreed that concerns about funds being extorted by al-Shabaab are overshadowed by the need to prevent massive famine and deaths.

Republican Senator Johnny Isakson put it this way:

“Well, I wanted to be quite clear," said Isakson. "I understand is important that the [Obama] administration and our country do everything they can to prohibit U.S. aid getting into terrorist hands, and that is one of the reasons for some of the restrictions.  But when you do reach a crisis point in a humanitarian problem like this, it seems like there ought to be expedited procedures, or else the people you are trying to help are going to be dead.”

Al-Shabaab was designated a terrorist group by the United States in 2008.  U.S. officials have expressed concern about the group recruiting Americans, particularly in Somali communities in the midwestern state of Minnesota.  Efforts by al-Shabaab to recruit and radicalize Muslim Americans were the focus of a recent hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.  

You May Like

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid