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SINGH: Effort, aid for Somalia must be increased

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Somalia has been hit by a drought since October 2016, and the effects are still worsening with each passing day. Somalia is perhaps the most affected region in east Africa since the drought hit the country in the past 25 years, making recovery harder and harder with each passing hit. The case this time has become so severe that it has lead to famine threats, and the last time the region was touched by famine almost 6 years ago, it took more than 250,000 people with it. This time around, there are more than 20 million lives at risk, leaving more than a third of the population facing starvation. The increased number is the result of the ongoing war in the region that has only exacerbated the famine as resources are running out faster. The most alarming fact about this situation is the rate at which cholera has been spreading around the country due to the lack of clean water

Cholera is a disease caused by the spread of the Vibrio cholerae bacterium which induces a diarrheal illness. The illness is acquired through the consumption of the bacterium through contaminated foods and water. The disease is particularly harder to treat in this region as it provokes acute diarrhea which in turn causes severe dehydration, and with no fresh water in the vicinity, people are forced to quench their thirsts with contaminated waters, only furthering the track of the illness.

Somalia’s case is more severe than before because there is displacement which leads to finding new resources and shelter traveling makes women vulnerable to gender-based violence.  An average of 300 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported between November and March. But this number jumped to 909, which is the highest yet reported cases in a single month. Gender-based violence was predominant in the area long before the drought, but the natural disaster has increased the number exponentially. In addition to there being a lack of safety, three-quarters of the nation’s crops and livestock have been depleted resulting in the extreme malnutrition of thousands of children. What many families have been doing to survive is forcibly handing their young daughters into marriages with much older men in exchange for dowry money for mere sustenance which is a truly heartbreaking resort that also plays a factor in the sexual assault statistics. And at least 20 percent of households are tackling acute dietary shortages, and with each passing day, two out of every 10,000 people pass from starvation.

In an interview, Winnie Byanyima, an executive director of Oxfam International, gave NPR’s Robert Siegel some insight on the situation of the famine. She stated “... I met people who have fled their homes, who have lost everything, and who are now living in camps. Most of them are not allowed to venture even a little bit outside the towns that they are in because when they step out to find food or sell something they get attacked, raped, assaulted. And they are frustrated that although they are in a safe town, they are unable to meet the needs of their families. So aid is coming in but not fast enough.” There is an overall lack of funding as most countries have a “me first” attitude. But it is time that nations realized that Somalia is undergoing a grave life or death situation where the slightest aid can make the biggest difference. There is an overall lack of international funding, and once received, it is arduous to deliver the resources to these countries. Northeast Nigeria is especially impossible to aid due to Boko Haram, which has a major presence in the area. Not all hope is lost though. The Red Crescent Society, the UAE’s biggest volunteer humanitarian organization, has been relentlessly assisting the Somalians, though with great effort and difficulty. Aid convoys are sent to scout and ascertain the needs of the residents along with missions to deliver thousands of food parcels. The food parcels are handed over in a most-needed manner. First preferences are usually given to the most vulnerable, particularly children, elders and expecting mothers. The parcels contain flour, rice, sugar, some water and cooking oils and usually last up to six weeks.

Internationally, it would take a lot of effort to save and restore the once thriving nation. It Is important to stay optimistic as many affected families are doing. Completely poor but ordinary families are welcoming those that are fleeing and in need into their homes with open arms. But unfortunately, at the end of the day, there must be a significant increase in effort and aid to revive the once thriving country.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Wednesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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