News Index for Somali Famine: October 2011 to January 2012

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January 17, 2012

This index provides summaries of news articles from October 2011 to January 2012 on the responses of humnitarian organizations, governments and others to the widespread famine in Somalia. In July 2011 famine was declared in several regions of Somalia. Click on the headings below to see the full articles. 


10/16/11         Al Qaeda Tries a New Tactic in Somalia: Philanthropy (New York Times)

  • Weekend of Oct. 15-16 witnesses told NYT that a man claiming to be from al Qaeda appeared with an armed guard in a camp controlled by al Shabaab and said he was bringing food aid.  His group had "mounds of donated grain," in sacks marked "Al Qaeda on behalf of Martyr Bin Laden. Charity relief for those affected by the drought."  There was also powdered milk and dates.

  • Witnesses also said this make was white, spoke English with an American accent

  • Al Shabaab "have been essentially imprisoning thousands of starving people. Witnesses said Shabab fighters had plucked desperate people off buses and taken them to their camp at gunpoint, and recent pictures sneaked out by Somali aid workers revealed skeletal children…"

  • The food distribution was generally seen as a propaganda action.


11/11/11         KENYA: Insecurity Undermines Aid Access in Dabaab  (IRIN)

  • "Humanitarian activities in the world's largest refugee complex have been restricted to essential services amid worsening security exemplified by the 13 October abduction of two Spanish aid workers and the earlier abduction of a Kenyan NGO driver in the eastern Kenyan facility." (This huge camp has many refugees from Somalia.  There are 460,000 refugees there, very overcrowded.)

  • OCHA confirmed eleven cases of cholera, problems getting health professionals to provide care due to restrictions

  • Rainy season (October to December) elevating health threat, flooding washed away tents for 5,000 people, hampered road access and damaged latrines.

  • Education/schools affected: teachers evacuated due to threats against them

  • Al Shabaab blamed for attacks and abductions

11/17/11         Somalia: Looters Sabotage Aid Efforts in Mogadishu (IRIN)

  • OCHA and aid workers say "frequent looting of relief aid at distribution centres in Mogadishu by local or state security agents seriously undermines efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people…"

  • TFG "acknowledged the involvement of its own agents."

  • Includes incident where security forces opened fire on food distribution, in early August 10 people were killed, on 14 November in Tribunka camp for IDPs government forces fired on the crowd and took the food

  • Militias have moved in on food distribution after al Shabaab left Mogadishu

  • Raids appear to be well organized


11/15/11         SOMALIA: Thousands Cut Off by Impending Conflict, Rain (IRIN) 

  • "Hundreds of families have fled Almadov in southern Somalia as Kenyanb and Somali government forces close in on it to oust the Al Shabab militia group- even as ongoing raisn render roads impassable, residents told IRIN"

  • 40 percent of town population fled, become IDPs

  • Town running out of essential goods

  • Resident said have not seen aid agencies in area

11/18/11         Famine Continues; Observed Improvements Contingent on Continued Response (USAID)

  • Confirms famine will persist through end of 2011.

  • Some areas downgraded from "Famine" to "emergency"

  • 250,000 people facing imminent starvation, down from 750,000 in [summer]

  • Death rates high, especially for children, outbreaks of measles, cholera, malaria."Under age 5 death rates up to six times typical for sub-Saharan Africa."

  • "continued multisectoral response, at scale, is required and any significant interruption to humanitarian assistance or trade would result in a return to Famine."

  • 2012: internally displaced persons (IDPs) most likely to experience famine in 2012, for others likely to remain in Emergency level due to impact of 2011 Famine on livelihoods.  Population in need likely to remain at four million for coming nine months.  Large scale spread of disease a risk.

  • Humanitarian access remains a concern, but flow of donated food to markets and use of cash and vouchers for assistance "are feasible and effective ways to improve food security."


11/28/11         Al-Shabaab Rebels Loot Aid Agencies Banned in Somalia (Mail & Guardian Online)

  • Al Shabaab banned aid agencies, both UN and international NGOs in southern Somalia, and began seizing and looting the offices

  • Groups include: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) World Health Organization (WHO) UN Children's Fund (Unicef) and Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils

  • Al Shabaab said the groups "persistently galvanizing the local population against the full establishment of the Islamic sharia system" (a statement from Al Shabaab)


12/04/11         In Somalia the Solutions Are in the Details (Toronto Star)

  • Food is available in Mogadishu markets but destroyed infrastructure makes getting aid distributed to more than 100,000 IDPs very difficult

  • Experts say Somalia needs a Marshall Plan-like reconstruction

  • Some NGOs and UN agencies "have complained about difficulty when trying to operate  in Shabab-controlled areas due to American terrorism sanctions that left them open to prosecution if aid benefitted the Shabab, even inadvertently."


12/06/11           AID POLICY: Cash Catches Up (IRIN)

  • "Cash and voucher transfers are being scaled dup and increasingly integrated into humanitarian relief efforts across the Horn of Africa, particularly in areas of insecurity, where access issues have led to a rethink of traditional ways of delivering aid."

  • Workshop with NGOs and private sector, donors, UN held in Nairobi to find ways to "improve and increase the use of cash transfer programming during emergencies."

  • In-kind NGO assistance faced problems with delays in delivery, high costs, taxation

  • Works where food available in local markets, more urban areas

  • Reduces influence of NGOs

  • Overseas Development Institute (ODI)  has published Good Practice Review for Cash Transfers in Emerencies 


12/8/11           SOMALIA: Aid Ban, Insecurity "Could Lead to More Deaths" (IRIN)

  • Al Shabaab ban on 16 aid agencies "could lead to escalation of the humanitarian crisis" if not reversed.

  • Insecurity making things worse for victims of drought and displacement: explosions killed 40 in previous two weeks

  • A civil society source said Al Shabaab  is "basically using the suffering of the people as a weapon."

  • Kenyan military incursion into southern Somalia to neutralize Al Shabaab has "hampered humanitarian access"


12/8/11           Humanitarian community in Somalia Calls for Increased Funding (UN)

  • Recent OCHA nutrition survey "in southern Somalia shows small improvements in malnutrition rates, as well as a fall in mortality"

  • But four million remain in need to food access, 250,000 face starvation

  • Flooding in southern Somalia with rainy season a problem

  • Humanitarian agencies will "launch a consolidated appeal for $1.5 billion" on Dec. 13


12/9/11           Reprieve for US Somalis on Money Transfer Issue (AP)

  • Sunrise Community Bank in Minnesota announced it was discontinuing services transferring money to Somalia via hawalas (informal money system), due to concerns about risking sanctions under U.S. anti-terrorist financing laws. 

  • After meeting with the Somali-American community in Minneapolis and getting support from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) the bank said it would continue the services through the end of 2011, creating some time to work out an alternative

  • Bank CEO David Reiling said "The humanitarian need is enormous. So that's got to be first and foremost in our minds."

  • Hawalas are needed because Somalia has no banking system, hawalas have little paperwork and a wide reach.

  • Somalis in the U.S. send an estimated $100 million to Somalia each year, many families are dependent on the income.

  • Reiling said they are looking for a solution, such as a waiver or other relief to take the pressure off banks.

  • Rep. Ellison has contacted federal banking regulators and Treasury officials and told AP that he is looking for a solution that would give banks some legal protection from enforcement action, as long as they do not knowingly provide financial aid to terrorists.

12/20/11            Treasury Denies NGOs' General License Request for Aid to Somalia (CSN)

  • The Department of Treasury has rejected a request from InterAction, an association of over 200 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that provide aid and development services around the world, to issue a General License that would authorize U.S. NGOs that receive no funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide famine relief on the same terms as NGOs that do receive such funds. Treasury's letter says it will give priority consideration to applications by individual NGOs that apply for specific licenses to work in al-Shabaab controlled territories in Somalia. This process has a reputation for inefficient, lengthy and burdensome response from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. A General License would eliminate the need for this process for NGOs that stay within the terms in the license

12/20/11         SOMALIA: Kismayo IDPs Face Hunger, Drug Shortages (IRIN)

  • IDPs in southern port city of Kismayo, which is under al Shabaab control since 2009, "facing a food crisis after supply routes were blocked, and drug shortages as patient numbers increase, locals said."

  • Reduced trade, fighting with Kenyan forces makes it worse

  • IDPs arrive daily and living in cramped camps.

  • Journalist said "The real problem is that aid agencies have no access to these people because Al Shabab won't let them." 

  • A resident said al Shabab not even letting local aid agencies operate freely, "they have become even more paranoid after the Kenyan incursion."


12/21/11         Somalia Famine Aid Hits the Mark (The National)

  • Injection of aid from international sources has succeeded in reduces deaths from famine, from 750,000 in immediate danger reported in August to 250,000 in November, according to UNHCR.

  • NHCR noted "massive outpouring of assistance" from Persian Gulf countries, The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, the UAE and Turkey.

  • But UNHCR warned donors "cannot lower their guard" 

  • 3.3 million people in Somalia still need emergency lifesaving assistance


12/22/11         The White House: Statement by the President on the Horn of Africa Famine (White House)

  • Announced an additional $113 million in emergency relief for the Horn of Africa, to support "urgently needed food, health, shelter, water and assistance needs." On top of $870 million already provided (no time frame given for this.)


12/29/11         Somali Groups Suspend Wire Transfers from Minnesota (Reuters)

  • After no deals were made between Sunrise Community Banks and the U.S. government, a group of businesses that send remittances to Somalia suspended their operations. The bank, which handles the money being sent, previously threatened to close the accounts in early December, but later gave an extension after being lobbied by Somali groups and Rep. Keith Ellison

  • According to Sunrise, they are concerned that current counterterror laws could make them vulnerable to prosecution if money is diverted to al Shabaab. A statement released by the banks says they will “continue to work tirelessly with the community and government officials to create a temporary legal and regulatory solution that would allow the bank to extend the account closure date.”


1/4/12               Was the World Late to Somalia’s Famine? (Marketplace)

  • Over 300,000 Somalis have died and a quarter million are near starvation.

  • Experts on famine believe that the crisis could have been averted. Early signs surfaced in winter 2010, when there was little rainfall and food became scarce. At that time, the famine had not been declared, but more than 2.5 million Somalis were in crisis.

  • Thousands of Somalis were fleeing for refugee camps, but little attention was paid. Most of the headlines focused on the Arab Spring.

  • Even as the famine grew near, the U.S. government froze aid into Somalia for fear that it would be redirected to al Shabaab.

  • Aid levels continued to fall after the World Food Program pulled out, citing danger from al Shabaab. However a Wikileaks cable suggested that the organization left in fear of U.S. terror laws.

  • Some terrorism restrictions imposed by the U.S. government were lifted after the famine was declared. While the worst of the famine may have passed, the U.N. has maintained that aid will be critical through this summer to keep casualties from increasing.


1/6/12             Minn. Hawala to Re-Open with Small Money Transfers (AP)

  • Tawakal Money Express, one of the remittances services that closed after Sunrise Community Banks discontinued money transfers, re-opened using banks from other states

  • Garad Nor, the head of the business, said he would transfer amounts up to $500, but only for emergencies


1/13/12           Somalia Requires Continued Assistance Despite Gains Against Famine (RBC Radio)

  • After the famine was declared in July, over $1.3 billion was raised for Somalia.

  • According to Mark Bowden, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, the assistance reduced the number of people at risk of famine from 750,000 to 150,000. But he also cautioned that “gains are very fragile, and require the sustained support and engagement of the international community.”

  • Despite the positive numbers, four million Somalis remain in need of food aid, health care, water, and sanitation services. Bowden also emphasized the responsibility of helping the 1.5 million displaced persons return to their homes in this coming year.