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Somalia’s Crisis Continues In the Shadow of Darfur

by John Boonstra

As reported by Reuters, the violence in Somalia, according to a high-ranking UN official, has generated a humanitarian emergency eclipsing even that of Darfur:

High levels of malnutrition and the difficulties of delivering aid make Somalia the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative there said on Tuesday.

More than 1 million people have fled their homes in Somalia, which is convulsed by fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces, Islamist insurgents and an assortment of warlords.

“I’ve never seen anything like Somalia before,” Guillermo Bettocchi, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said during a visit to London.

“The situation is very severe. It is the most pressing humanitarian emergency in the world today — even worse than Darfur,” he told reporters, referring to the war in western Sudan, which has driven 2.5 million from their homes.

A bomb attack which killed three foreign aid workers in Somalia on Monday underlined the difficulty in delivering aid in the anarchic country that has been wracked by clan violence for 17 years, he said.

Fifteen percent of the population suffer acute malnutrition while health services are very limited and sanitation, water and shelters are extremely poor, Bettocchi said.

While a remarkably broad grass-roots constituency has propelled Darfur to the forefront of US media attention — at least relative to other enduring African conflicts — the ongoing chaos in Somalia has been relatively ignored. Lacking the moral impetus of “the g-word,” Somalia’s humanitarian disaster has not galvanized US activists as has Darfur, which can be easily oversimplified and digested as genocidal “Arab” militias attacking black “African” civilian victims. Somalia’s diverse array of armed groups and history of instability foster an impression that this conflict is particularly intractable.The images many Americans retain of Somalia are scenes from the movie “Black Hawk Down,” which recounts the story of the 18 US marines killed and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993. That debacle set the stage for US inaction during the frantic Rwandan genocide of 1994, and it has left a persistent bad taste in the mouths of American politicians considering taking action in Somalia.

Despite this deterrent, the US has quietly involved itself in supporting Somalia’s transitional, Ethiopian-backed government, even providing military aid to Ethiopia’s counter-offensive against Islamists a year ago. The US should back up its interest in combating terrorism in Somalia by fully supporting the United Nations’ efforts to improve the country’s dire humanitarian situation. While Somalia lacks Darfur’s admittedly grim prospects for speedily deployed UN peacekeepers, the UN — through the World Food Program, OCHA, and other agencies — has provided valuable food and medical care for displaced Somalis. Unfortunately, operating in an environment of utter insecurity, with only a beleaguered African Union force for protection, these humanitarian programs require continued support and enhanced security to fulfill their crucial missions.

Humanitarian crises should not be compared to one another, of course, and the scale of the disaster in Somalia does not diminish the urgency of responding to the atrocities in Darfur. Nor should the sheer enormity of the dangers faced by an entire region deter the world community from concerted action to improve each scenario. DR Congo, we mustn’t forget, remains one of the deadliest areas of the world, and Kenya’s recent political violence has exploded into something far more sinister

Four years ago, Darfur was characterized as “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.” This mantle has since passed, but it would be a true tragedy to allow the crises in either Darfur or Somalia to continue to languish — whether on the front page or under the radar.

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Thursday Morning Coffee

The last Republican debate before Super Tuesday was held last night at the Reagan Library in California as Guiliani and Edwards drop out. Serbia also held it’s last televised debate before the presidential run-off on Sunday between incumbent and supporter of EU membership Boris Tadic and nationalist Tomislav Nikolic, who supports closer ties with Russia. Both oppose Kosovo’s independence.

Top Stories
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>>Kenyan violence continues – A second opposition leader, David Kimutai Too, has been shot dead in Eldoret, overshadowing a second day of talks led by Kofi Annan. A local police chief, claims that Too was shot because of the discovery of his affair with the girlfriend of a local police officer and not connected to the ongoing violence, which top U.S. diplomat Jendayi Frazer has called “ethnic cleansing.” Either way, angry crowds have stormed the police station and Kikuyu are fleeing the Rift Valley town. At an AU summit in Ethiopia, commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare urged African leaders to help difuse the crisis, as Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame has suggested that army intervention may be the only way forward.

>>Canada troops in Afghanistan – Canadian PM Stephen Harper has demanded another 1,000 NATO troops be dispatched to the Kandahar region, or else the 2,500 Canadian troops already there will be pulled out. Meanwhile, a report by the former supreme allied commander of NATO, Lt. Col. James Jone, concluded that NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a “strategic stalemate.” And, a thousand Afghan infantry troops will be rushed to the battlefield half trained.

>>PM Olmert survives report – The Winograd Commission’s report (full text) on the conduct of Israel’s leadership during the 2006 war in Lebanon was less damaging than expected, noting “serious failures” but also not blaming PM Olmert directly and even praising some of his key decisions. The brunt of the blame for what the report stated was a “great and grave missed opportunity” to decisively defeat Hezbollah was reserved for Israel’s military leadership, which the report suggests were too reliant on air power.

>>North Korean nuclear deal – NK leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting Chinese official that he remains committed to the six party talks and implementing existing agreements. Meanwhile, capitalism trumps detente, as the first regular freight train service in a half century between North and South Korea has been cut because there simply isn’t enough cargo to ship.

>>Iran: Lower or higher profile? – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran will produce nuclear energy by 2009. Ayatollah Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has announced a ban on public executions without his prior consent. Taking photos or film of an execution is also now verboten. Meanwhile, five convicts were hanged at Evin prison in near Tehran.

>>Mr. Rose Apple Nose – Sign language interpreters are holding their noses to refer to Thailand’s new PM, Samak Sundaravej, but probably not for the reason you think.

Harsh Headline of the Day
Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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About those Helicopters

Here on UN Dispatch we have been following the saga of the missing helicopters for UNAMID, the AU/UN Peacekeeping mission in Darfur. So far, for want of 24 helicopters, the mission has not been able to project the kind of force and agility needed to make the operation a success. The lack of helicopters–a critical component of any peacekeeping mission in a place as vast as Darfur– serves as a reminder that member states’ rhetoric about the urgency of the situation in Darfur stands in stark contrast to the actions they are willing to take to help solve the crisis.

Thankfully, Senators Biden and Lugar have co-sponsored a Senate resolution to urge their own government–and governments around the world–to support the deployment of helicopters to Darfur. Here’s how you can take action to support the Biden-Lugar resolution.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

John McCain  href="">won
a close Florida primary last night, solidifying his
status as the frontrunner in the race to be the Republican nominee.
 Rumors suggest that Rudy Guiliani,  href="">who
finished a distant third, will endorse McCain today in
advance of the last Republican debate in the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library. And Russia, apparently, is beautiful from the hard court to
the barracks.

Top Stories

>>An internal report on Israeli leadership during the
2006 war in Lebanon  href="">is
set to be released today, both threatening the government
of PM Olmert and putting Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a tight spot.
Barak has pledged to pull the Labor Party out of the government
coalition when the report is release, which would bring down the
government at a time when the right-wing Likud Party is riding high in
public opinion.  href="">

>>The IMF  href="">has
lowered its global forecast for economic growth this year,
but stopped short of predicting a global recession. The forecast for
the U.S. is depressing, but for Africa — not too bad.  The
IMF also smirked at the idea of “de-coupling.”  Meanwhile the
House  href="">passed
the President’s stimulus plan, now on its way to the Senate.

>>Be careful what you post on YouTube. The White
House  href="">slapped
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad on the wrist today for
sitting next to Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at Davos.

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Jonny Goldstein, proprietor of Jonny’s Par-tay, a live video webcast program, invited me to be his guest on tomorrow’s show. Jonny specializes in new media issues and he asked me to talk a bit about blogging about the UN, as well as some of UN Dispatch’s partners such as On Day One and Nothing But Nets. The format looks quite innovative as viewers have the opportunity to write in and ask questions during the show. Tune at 9 pm EST.

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Superbowl 2007 Flashback

The World Food Program commercial featuring Reggie Bush

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