The Somali Drought: “Survival of the Fittest”

By Sadia Aden


The latest update from the Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that an estimated 1.4 million people are in critical need of humanitarian assistance in Southern Somalia. A growing number of livestock are dying and wells are drying up, and this has created a mass movement of people in south and central Somalia. The blistering sun, the harsh environment, and the forced migration of the Somali population have resulted in devastating starvation. Those physically capable are fleeing; while the old, along with the women and children, are left behind.

The present drought seems as bad as the drought of 1974 - the worst drought in the living memory of the Somali people - which was also labeled one of Somalia’s worst national disasters. However, according to historians such as I.M. Lewis, the manner in which that challenge was met by the government of Somalia prevented disaster from coming to hundreds of thousands of nomads and semi-nomads, and invoked “a story of courage, honesty, determination, and of a unity of effort not before seen in modern Somali history, or, perhaps, in any Somali history that we know.” As documented by I.M. Lewis, “By the time good rains began to fall, more than 260,000 nomads were in twenty government relief camps, while upwards of another million people were receiving government relief outside the camps; altogether, between a quarter and a third of the country's whole population.”


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today, as there is no effective government in Somalia, and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that was recently established is struggling to survive against powerful warlords. In the meantime the world’s most powerful country, the United States, is making back door deals with Somalia’s miserable warlords. It is indeed ironic how these “warlords” have all of a sudden become partners in the “war against terrorism." The United States and the global community should do more to alleviate the suffering of the poor Somali victims who are clinging to life, instead of rewarding criminals.

Ordinary Somalis (in Somalia and in the Diaspora) have responded with commendable unity to the catastrophe. I am particularly touched by the courage, unity, and the love of the people of Mogadishu, who, despite the tremendous pressure from the warlords, have united to save their
brethren. The grass-roots movement created by the citizens of Mogadishu should be the blueprint for recovery nationwide. For a decade and a half, the people of Mogadishu were designated as dead under the ruthless oppression of the warlords; yet today they breathe life into their fellow Somalis hundreds of miles away.

There are horrific reports, from these famine-stricken areas, where children are drinking urine to satisfy their thirst. There are also reports of baboons and hyenas attacking Somalis who have been rendered weak and unable to defend themselves, due to starvation. The old and the weak are literally eaten alive. Hence, the life and death competition between human beings and wild animals has truly come to symbolize “survival of the fittest.”