One common image of Somalia is poverty. Add to that disease and famine. The somali people are often portrayed as in need of humanitarian relief. Images of malnourished children with big bellies accompanied by relief shows begs donations to aid agencies. But does anyone benefit from the aid?
Emergency aid and relief shows
On 27 August 2011, the Danish viewers of a national relief show named “Afrika Nu!” donated 110 million Danish kroner to people affected by famine in the Horn of Africa. The money was given to 16 Danish humanitarian organizations (NGO’s) that operate in the region.
Three months later, the Islamic militant group, Al-Shabaab issued a statement banning these organizations from working in areas under the group’s control, accusing them of “illicit activities and misconduct.”
Before that, reports told of aid relief piling up in warehouses in Mogadishu, while people were dying of hunger. Other reports showed how sacks of grain meant for starving Somalis were being stolen and sold in markets.
Aid saves thousands, UN says
Meanwhile, Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, states that humanitarian relief efforts have saved thousands of lives since famine was declared in July. In Somalia, 4 million people are still in crisis and 250.000 face famine at this moment.
Humanitarian organizations working in Somalia remain strictly neutral, with their only task being to save lives, according to the UN. Amos urges all parties to the conflict in Somalia to respect international humanitarian law.
In addition, environmental scientists suspect that the severe drought in the Horn of Africa is a direct consequence of climate change and the rising global temperatures. Droughts have so far occurred every 5 – 7 years in the region, but almost never with the extreme conditions of today.
Empowering the people, not the government
Some argue that aid alleviates suffering, while others point out that aid is not effective in the long run. The basic criticism is that aid neither goes where it was intended nor helps those intended.
According to Paul Collier, Professor of Economics, there are four known traps that contribute this problem:
- Conflict trap, where aid end up being used to finance military endeavors.
- Natural resource trap, where aid is given to resource-rich countries that already have capital flowing into their economies. However, it is not being used to its potential.
- Landlock trap is when it is difficult for landlocked countries to engage in global trade.
- Bad governance.
Collier’s conclusion is, that aid needs to somehow provide incentives for giving the people power. Power needs to be transferred from the governments to the people. Therefore, aid should be restructured in order to allow for skills building in the countries.