A recent report estimated that 260,000 people died in a 2011 famine in Somalia. Many blame the high death toll (previously estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 people) on the slow aid response from wealthy Western nations. This report, which has yet to be corroborated by agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Organization, claims that half of the dead are children under 6 years old. Families are forced to journey up to hundreds of miles along trails that have come to be called “roads of death” in search of refugee camps where they might find aid. The trip to the camps is particularly brutal, and the physically vulnerable (the sick, young and elderly) often don’t make it.
There is an obvious caveat that should accompany this new report: Political situations like the one in Somalia make it incredibly difficult to generate accurate and complete numbers. Not only is the government basically paralyzed in the capital city, but the widespread dysfunction and rampant violence make it very difficult to get an accurate count of the number of people who have died and from what causes they have died. With that said, these new numbers are staggering. No matter what we might think of American foreign policy (and it has its flaws), there is no justification for turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Somali people. Some reports have suggested that the aid that was sent was long delayed by militants in control of certain regions of the country. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that there were early signs in 2010 and 2011 that the people in East Africa were going to run into a food shortage. A more concerted effort should have been made earlier.
In my last article I discussed the importance of a preventative domestic policy instead of one that just reacts to tragedy; it would seem there is a similar problem on the international scale. America has long enjoyed a comfortable position on the international stage; we have the surplus resources that allow us to offer a hand of benevolence when we see people in need. But that kind hand is useless if it comes too late. Somalia is still navigating the murky waters of a violent internal conflict, famine and other setbacks that make it harder for the people to begin to rebuild their lives. Americans have run into tough economic times, but we can’t forget that there are people all around the world who have it so much worse, and the least we can do is offer lifesaving support when it’s clear that there is need.
Brie Powell is a freshman political science major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected].