Analysis: Politics, people contributed to famine deaths in Somalia

May 3, 2013 at 9:30 AM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, May 3 (UPI) -- An extremist militia and U.S. anti-terrorism policy share blame for the food crisis that caused tens of thousands of deaths in Somalia, an analysis indicated.

Analysts said the deaths were caused by, among other factors, al-Shabaab, which denied humanitarian access to the hardest-hit areas, as well as U.S. anti-terrorism policy that prompted some agencies to stop aid deliveries to al-Shabaab-controlled areas for fear they could be charged with helping a designated terrorist group, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Nearly 260,000 people died; half of the dead were children younger than 5 years, a report released Thursday by the Famine Early Warning System Network and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said.

The Famine Early Warning System Network, based in the United States, warned of the disaster in 2010; the famine was declared in July 2011.

The findings released Thursday followed the first definitive scientific study on the effects of Somalia's food crisis, the Times said. The study found 10 percent of children and 4.6 percent of the overall population in southern Somalia died.

"The short answer -- who was to blame -- was that there was a syndrome of factors that together created very large problems of access," Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College told the Times. "It wasn't one single factor."

Menkhaus said the suspension of World Food Program aid and U.S. anti-terrorism measures had a "chilling effect" on other humanitarian organizations.

"Everyone wanted to get aid in," he said. "But local aid diversion was endemic. One aid agency worker called southern Somalia 'an accountability-free zone.' You could not count on getting aid to the people who needed it most."

Geno Teofilo, spokesman for Oxfam, said the British humanitarian agency believed the international community placed too much emphasis on security in the developing world at the expense of the humanitarian crises.

"Oxfam believes that when there's a conflict it doesn't matter what side of the control line people are on," Teofilo told the Times in a telephone interview. "When they need food and people are dying of hunger, politics should not play a part. People should be able to receive humanitarian aid, wherever they are."

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