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close this bookThe Courier N° 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid - Country Reports: Soa Tomé- Principe- Senegal (EC Courier, 1992, 96 p.)
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Somalia: Millions face starvation

European initiatives

Like the rest of the international donor community, the EC has been giving urgent attention to the increasingly serious situation in Somalia, where a combination of drought, famine, war and anarchy has created a human disaster on a scale unprecedented even in that long-suffering part of the world. There is widespread starvation and disease, even in the camps for refugees and displaced persons. At the beginning of September 2000 people a day were said to be dying of starvation in the capital, Mogadishu, alone. Mohammed Sahnoun, special envoy of the UN to the country, said that one third of the population of 4.5 million were likely to starve to death before the end of the year.

Parliament: EC must respond

The European Parliament's Committee on Development and Cooperation held a special meeting in Brussels on 2 September at which representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the ICRC, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the EC Commission and international NGOs gave their views on the plight of Somalia. The committee's chairman, Henri Saby, said that only a political solution would bring Somalia's suffering to an end. This point was echoed by the co-chairman of the ACP/EEC Joint Assembly, Maria Luisa Cassanmagnago Cerretti, who said the EC must respond to the emergency and regretted that the EC Council and the ACP Council had not spoken out on the issue in recent weeks. The Commission's Deputy Director-General for Development, Peter Pooley (interviewed in Meeting Point in this issue), told the committee he did not believe in flooding Somalia with food aid, but thought that the 'braver and better way' would be to ensure armed protection for such aid. NGOs, he said, had been told that only 'those who perform will be financed', which was why 80% of EC aid to Somalia is distributed through the Red Cross.

Difficult and dangerous

Mr Pooley added that since July the Community had provided Somalia with 40 000 tonnes of additional food products, ECU 6 million in emergency aid and ECU 2.1 million in aid for refugee camps, as well as between 25 000 and 30 000 tonnes of aid to Kenya, part of which was for refugees from Somalia. The situation in Somalia, where 4 million people are in danger, was the most difficult and dangerous the Community had ever had to face in its humanitarian relief efforts.

Michael Aaronson of the London-based NGO, Save the Children, who had just returned from Somalia, told the Development Committee that the European Community should make its 'tremendous weight' felt by exerting leverage on the international system, particularly the UN Security Council, in view of the lack of an overall strategy for the distribution of food aid in a country that depended almost entirely on foreign aid.

Generous aid

Mr Aaronson paid tribute to the 'heroic' efforts of the Red Cross in Somalia and described the EC's aid as 'generous', as did Andreas Lendorff, head of the relief division of the ICRC, who pointed out how quickly the Commission departments responsible for food aid had reacted to the crisis. Two thirds of the aid distributed by the Red Cross in Somalia was being provided by the Community, he said. This made a total contribution of ECU 50 million in food aid, and Mr Lendorff said he hoped for another ECU 2.5 million in aid the following week. Red Cross aid to Somalia represented one third of its entire field budget for 1992, making this the largest operation the ICRC had ever mounted to help a country in need.

Aid vanarchy

In a memorandum delivered to the EC Commission on the same day, its Vice-President Manuel Marin, who is responsible for cooperation and development, said that 600 000 people had been forced to flee Somalia and probably 2 million were displaced within it. He reported that, through the Commission, the Community had already provided ECU 56.2 million in food aid, giving 184 700 tonnes of cereal equivalent. ECU 9 million in emergency aid - special foods, medical supplies, logistical support and mine clearance - had been largely delivered, and a further ECU 6 million was being mobilised; ECU 2.6 million had gone towards helping Somali refugees in Kenya and Yemen.

Concerning the situation on the ground, Mr Marin said that aid operations normally relied on cooperation with some form of public authority, but in Somalia there was none, so the circumstances in which the agencies and NGOs had to work were almost unbelievably violent and anarchic. The only way they could convoy deliveries or guard stocks was to employ bands of gunmen. Even so, some localities were out of reach even with the heaviest guard, as the transport and public utility infrastructures had been largely destroyed. Partly as a result of this, aid deliveries had been insufficient and late.

Armed protection

As there was no prospect of a negotiated return to peace for the moment, the memorandum said that the second major possibility for improving the reach and depth of aid efforts was to ensure reliable military protection. There was reason to believe that the way was now clear for a very substantial improvement in the area of protection for aid operations, although it would take time to build up.

Some major donors and aid agencies, Mr Marin reported, were in favour of «flooding?' Somalia with food, but Commission departments had advised against such a policy, as the quantities required would be so enormous as to present logistical problems even greater than those already faced, and the prospects for re-establishing a real market would be heavily reduced. Nor were Commission officials on the spot in favour of arms-forfood exchanges, which some NGOs had advocated as a means of reducing the level of violence, since people with arms would unfortunately not surrender them for short-term food security.


On 10 September the EC Council of Ministers formally approved the use of European Development Fund resources to protect convoys delivering Community humanitarian and food aid in Somalia from looting and attack. The text of its statement reads: 'The Council, in view of the exceptional circumstances prevailing in Somalia and having consulted its ACP partners, agrees to the Commission suggestion regarding the financing of part of the operations by the Belgian soldiers invited by the United Nations under Security Council Resolution 775 to assist in protecting aid convoys from their arrival in Somalia to their final destination. Such support, limited to a maximum of ECU 27 million, would be financed by remainders from the indicative programmes for Somalia under LomI and LomII. It would not be used for the purchase of military equipment and would be disbursed following the normal EDF procedures.'

This is the first time that the Community has ever used money earmarked for development to finance operations of this kind. The resources concerned were never used for their original purpose because all development projects ceased as the country slid into anarchy. Only LomI and III resources can be used as Somalia is still not a party to the Fourth Convention. The EC Commission is now responsible for releasing funds as manager of the European Development Fund. The total cost of the Belgian peacekeeping force operation is ECU 37 million; the UN and Belgium will each contribute ECU 5 million to make up the rest of the cost. Some 500 Belgian troops were sent.

Top-level visits

On 4 September the foreign ministers of Great Britain, Denmark and Portugal flew to Somalia for talks, followed a week later by the same countries' development ministers, who met several faction leaders. Manuel Marin, EC Commissioner for Development, accompanied the second of these missions. The Foreign Ministers asked the Commission to consider re-establishing a permanent presence in Mogadishu, particularly as a means of improving aid coordination.

In August the Commission sent another 40 000 tonnes of cereals, worth ECU 5.7 million, to be distributed to people in Somalia through the ICRC and the World Food Programme. On 22 September it made a grant of ECU 20 million from the 5th and 6th EDFs in the form of emergency aid to assist the humanitarian bodies working in Somalia.

The EC has this year allocated Somalia 206 000 tonnes of food aid, worth ECU 56 million, of which 70% had been sent and 50% had arrived at the time of writing. This does not include emergency aid from the EC and contributions from its Member States.

Aid is top priority

The ACP-EEC Joint Assembly meeting in Luxembourg at the end of September (reported at length in this issue) heard an eye-witness account from the British Minister for Overseas Development, Lynda Chalker, of her recent visit to Somalia and Kenya. Baroness Chalker said that the only products found in abundance in Somalia were weapons. The situation in the south was especially bad, and the drought affecting it and neighbouring countries had driven over half a million Somali, Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees into north-eastern Kenya, which was itself in need of substantial external aid. Regarding the situation inside Somalia, the Minister said the restoration of a legitimate authority through a process of national reconciliation was important, but the foremost priority was the effective distribution of aid.