Copenhagen Meeting On Somalia Should Focus On Saving 750,000 From Imminent Starvation

Our guest blogger is Sarah Margon, associate director for Sustainable Security at the Center for American Progress.

Earlier this month the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) released survey results indicating that yet another region in Somalia succumbed to official famine. Conditions throughout Somalia are expected to deteriorate even further in the coming months, particularly as the October rains approach. An increased prevalence of diseases like cholera and severe diarrhea means an already weakened population will be further debilitated.

According to the U.N.’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, an estimated 585,000 urban Somalis are projected to be in crisis by December if relief interventions are not scaled up. Worse still, the U.N.’s Food Security Analysis and Nutrition Unit for Somalia has officially announced that 750,000 people are at risk of imminent starvation and death in the coming four months.

These numbers are basically equivalent to every single person in Washington, DC — or almost everyone in San Francisco — facing starvation unless they begin receiving food, water, and medical attention from an outside source now.

In response to the lackluster international effort and the growing urgency, 20 aid organizations recently released a statement calling for an all-inclusive dialogue “to put people’s lives before politics in order to save thousands of lives.” This call for a diplomatic push is vital; the Somali population is on death’s doorstep.

A prime opportunity could present itself later this week as the international contact group for Somalia gathers in Denmark. Ironically, the cornerstone of this meeting is the recently agreed political reform Road Map, not the metastasizing crisis of epic proportions. As international donors, key regional actors, and Somali officials meet in Copenhagen, they will focus on priority tasks for reforming Somalia’s feeble Transitional Federal Government. They are likely to touch tangentially on the urgent humanitarian needs but there seems to be no plan for a robust diplomatic response. Certainly, immediate relief responses need to be linked to a more comprehensive approach if they are to be sustainable. But, crafting (yet another) governance plan for a functional Somali government just doesn’t make a ton of sense when the survival prognosis for much of the population is bleak.

The options to stop the worsening crisis are few and the likelihood of success is slipping away. The restrictions placed on aid groups — by all parties to the conflict — as well as the international donor community are significant impediments to accessing those in need. And while the United States is leading international community contributions with more than $600 million in assistance to the Horn of Africa, the U.N. appeal remains only 63 percent funded. Worse yet, with so many Somalis holding on by a thread, the increased drone attacks in Somalia create a perception problem about U.S. government priorities. Instead of rearranging the patio furniture tomorrow in Copenhagen, the first order of business at tomorrow’s meeting should be the creation of a diplomatic plan focused on enabling the unimpeded delivery of desperately needed aid.