On Monday, the United Nations added a sixth area in Somalia to the country’s list of famine-stricken regions. The food crisis devastating East Africa has hit Somalia the hardest, affecting nearly 4 million people there alone. The spread of famine further south to the Bay region means that an additional 750,000 Somalis are at risk of starving to death in the next fourth months. The UN expects these conditions to reach two neighboring regions on the border with Kenya, endangering even more lives. This bleak outlook begs the question: what can be done to stop the humanitarian crisis?
Unfortunately, the case of Somalia is further complicated by its volatile security environment and the presence of the radical Islamist group al Shabaab, which controls large parts of the country—including those in the south most affected by the famine. Katherine Zimmerman, Gulf of Aden team lead at AEI’s Critical Threats Project, will testify at 2 p.m. before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance in al Shabaab-controlled Somalia. Some key points from her testimony:
• The greatest obstacle to the provision of humanitarian assistance in Somalia is denial of access by al Shabaab, which not only creates a prohibitive security environment, but also restricts humanitarian operations in southern Somalia.
• Al Shabaab has banned many international aid agencies from operating within territories under its control. The group has enforced this ban with violence: militants raid local offices, destroy foodstuffs and medical supplies, and kidnap aid workers. The group’s actions against aid organizations have created the humanitarian emergency that many Somalis now face.
• The international community should not cling to the false belief that a humanitarian operation in southern Somalia could be successfully accomplished without ground forces supporting the mission. There is a high likelihood that any such operation, which would entail establishing security in the heartland of al Shabaab’s territory, would be met with significant armed resistance.
Watch the hearing, “Addressing the Humanitarian Emergency in East Africa,” live or read the full text of Katherine’s testimony.