While hospitals are meant to be safe havens, in Somalia the fighting between rebels and government forces has made even an emergency room a target. And while the food that they need is arriving in their country, for many of the starving it is not staying in their hands. Both the recent reports of violence and food theft have made it clear that Somalian victims of the famine in the Horn of Africa are running out of places to turn.
According to reports from Mogadishu, al-Shabaab rebels have returned to Somalia’s capital city and engaged both the government and the African Union in firefights throughout the streets. Dahir Abdulle, a nurse at the SOS hospital said that the fighting has caused many who have come in need of medical attention to run away. Speaking to Reuters, he said:
“Today, anti-aircraft gun shots deafened us-then a stray bullet hit the veil of a patient’s relative. I took cover inside the dispensary. After minutes, I came out but could not see a single patient. Relatives rushed patients who still had I.V. drips attached to them.”
The renewed violence in Mogadishu comes just a week after the al-Shabaab pulled out of the city to let aid delivery resume. Now, with thousands more Somalis in the city and hundreds of aid workers on the ground, the people in Mogadishu are fighting both a humanitarian battle but a real one as well.
Somalia has asked the United Nations to create a new force to protect food aid convoys and camps. Earlier this week, the UN disclosed that it was looking into allegations of food theft. According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, there have been reports of camp leaders forcing families to give up part of their food aid in return for a place to stay.
Refugees say the practice is fairly common and several journalists have photographed it in motion. The scale of the scandal has caused many to doubt the effectiveness of the international aid effort and the willingness of aid workers, the UN and the Somalis to fight corruption. The shadows of doubt are no help especially when donors’ willingness to give is lower than in the case of Pakistan’s flooding last summer and dramatically lower than Haiti’s earthquake the year before.
Joakim Gundel, the head of Katuni Consult, often evaluates the effectiveness of international aid efforts in Somalia. Speaking to The Boston Globe about the situation, he said:
“While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster. You’re saving people’s lives today so they can die tomorrow.’’
More than 3.7 million of the nation’s citizens are at risk of starvation due to the current famine. And while food theft was one of the main reasons behind U.S. military involvement in 1992, there is little chance that that part of history will repeat itself.