Put people before politics to save lives in Somalia, urge agencies

Published: 21st September 2011

The world must put people’s lives before politics if is to stand any chance of aiding people suffering from the famine in Somalia, a group of 20 aid agencies said today in an open letter. While aid is getting through in many areas, it is not at the scale needed to address the enormity of the crisis and hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. With predicted rains now bringing the threat of deadly disease, a range of restrictions are still preventing the rapid boost in aid that is so desperately needed to save lives.

The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.

A focus on military solutions is not the answer and could make things worse, the agencies warned. In the past military action has only led to increased death and suffering, and further reduced humanitarian access.

The agencies called on all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and allow aid to be delivered throughout the country.

“Never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake,” the agencies said. But they warned the crisis could soon get even worse, as the rains predicted for next month threaten to spread disease including cholera, measles and malaria that will decimate communities already ravaged by famine and malnutrition.

Open letter: NGOs call for all-inclusive dialogue to save lives in Somalia

As NGOs who have worked in Somalia for decades, we are accustomed to the daily struggle to survive that is the reality for most Somalis. However, never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake. Somalia is at a turning point. The next three months are critical; hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. Efforts to increase assistance and prevent more deaths will not be enough unless accompanied by a dramatic change in approach. The humanitarian imperative of saving lives must override any political considerations at this crucial time.

It is hard to imagine that the suffering in Somalia could get any worse. Yet we know that the arrival of the Deyr rains predicted for October 2011 will result in increased suffering and lead to the deaths of many more weak and vulnerable Somalis in communities already decimated by famine. The spread of cholera, measles and malaria will have a devastating effect on malnourished men, women and children.  Current restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance are preventing the rapid scale up of aid that is so desperately needed in Somalia.

This scale up should not and cannot be achieved through military means. Somalia’s recent history has demonstrated that military action has often led to increased death and suffering, and further reduced humanitarian access.

Lives will be saved through active dialogue rather than military action. We welcome recent statements by some donor governments that an all-inclusive dialogue is possible and necessary and urge further efforts in this respect from all sides.

With this in mind we call on:

Parties to the conflict to:

  • Immediately commit to a full cessation of hostilities throughout Somalia
  • Allow free passage of assistance and for those seeking assistance; and
  • Remove restrictions on the delivery of impartial aid and allow organisations to scale up their assistance, both in terms of experienced staff and essential materials such as food, water and medicine.

International governments and other actors to:

  • Enhance diplomatic efforts and engage with all parties to the conflict to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Somalia. We encourage members of the League of Arab states, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Somalia diaspora to continue to use their influence to achieve the rapid scale up of humanitarian assistance and save lives.
  • Remove any legal impediments to providing assistance in areas dominated by armed groups aid must be provided impartially, based on need, and ndependently of any political or military agenda.
  • Ensure that funding is available to support the levels of assistance that are needed ; and
  • Set aside funds for long term solutions.

Despite our best efforts we know that many lives will be lost. Yet we are faced with a window of opportunity, a critical period where a change in approach putting people before politics could save thousands of lives.

Action Africa Help International (AHHI)
Caritas Switzerland
Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Family Empowerment and Relief Organization (FERO)
Finn Church Aid (FCA)
GRT Group for Transcultural Relations (GRT)
Integrated Development Focus (IDF)
International Rescue Committee, Somalia (IRC)
KAALO Relief and Development (KAALO)
Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
Médecins du Monde France (MDM)
Mubarak for Relief and Development Organisation (MURDO)
Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Germany (VSF G)
World Vision (WVI)

Read more

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Never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake.

Notes to editors

  1. The famine in Somalia is spreading rapidly, with the UN warning that 750,000 people could die in the coming months. Mogadishu, one of the world’s most dangerous cities after years of conflict, has recently seen an influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing the famine zones. Families are living in desperate conditions with little food, water or shelter. A fatal cholera outbreak in the city has killed many children, and famine has been declared in parts of Mogadishu itself.
  2. Oxfam partners in Somalia are scaling up their work and are currently providing life-saving aid to over 700,000 people. In Mogadishu, Oxfam partners operate one of the largest therapeutic feeding programs for children and mothers, where 3,000 malnourished children are arriving every week. They also run the largest public health program in Somalia, providing clean water and sanitation to 250,000 displaced Somalis in the growing camps. Oxfam recently flew in 47 tons of water pipes and hygiene materials to help contain the cholera outbreak.
  3. Somalia is suffering the first famine of the 21st century and is the epicentre of the food crisis which has left over 13 million people across Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti in need of aid. The UN recently announced that famine has spread to a sixth area of Somalia and is likely to spread across all the south and central parts of the country in the next two months. The aid operation is scaling up its response, and aid is being delivered, but faces many challenges due to the conflict and lack of access to some areas.
  4. Oxfam is successfully delivering targeted aid to help eliminate global poverty. Last year, we helped more than 17 million people in 62 countries. Around the world, millions more people are being pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the economic crisis.

Contact information

For more information contact:
Anna Ridout in the UK on +44 (0)7766 443506 or aridout@oxfam.org.uk, @annaridout, or
Caroline Gluck in Kenya on +254 (0) 787 388 964 or cgluck@oxfam.org.uk, @carooxfam