This is the fourth or fifth year of the slow onset crisis in Somalia. And that’s if you don’t count the prior years that Somalis have endured recurrent drought and periodic warfare.
And yet rural families in Somalia have always been quick to adapt and face new challenges without losing hope. The women of the Horn of Africa are particularly resilient: They are the pillars of the family, community and nation. Humanitarian agencies’ help in drilling boreholes would have secured their access to safe drinking water. Where there is water, there is life.
But the humanitarian aid system works within bureaucratic structures that are caught in a rigidity trap that prevents it from recognizing and bolstering local capacities in a timely manner. So it’s the Somali people, including in the Diaspora, who have been organizing themselves to prevent and mitigate one crisis after another. Resilience is the capacity to anticipate and judiciously engage with catastrophic events and experiences (including periodic hunger), making meaning out of adversity and maintaining normal function without fundamental loss of identity.
A Somali mother living on the Kenyan border would do all in her powers to make sure that her children and her sister’s and neighbor’s children do not go hungry. She may even send the older ones to school in Dadaab camp where some of her relations had taken refuge. It is not in the interest of Somali mothers to see their children fight, so they excel in preventing and resolving conflicts that arise. However, the insurgent activities of Al-Shabaab, a militant group that has taken over larger parts of Somalia, have eroded the people’s resilience. Of course the U.N. established a Peace Building Commission in 2006, but its activities have not been evident in Somalia.
We have inadequate and incoherent bureaucratic international humanitarian systems, and beneath them equally inadequate and incoherent sub-systems. The crude famine criteria cited by Mark Bowden in a slow, deliberate, killing tone indicate leadership fatigue, not compassion fatigue – and with each devastating photo or story out of Somalia, it’s this that should scandalize the compassionate American public.
Astier M. Almedom is the director of the International Resilience Program at the Institute for Global Leadership and a professor in humanitarian policy and global public health at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
In this roundtable:
Sen. John Kerry: Amid budget crisis, a defense of foreign aid
Astier M. Almedom: With Somalia,what should really scandalize the public
Bill Shore: A chronic political failure on humanitarian aid
Stuart Diamond: U.S. foreign aid: Business skills needed
Robert Goodwin: A new strategy for solving America’s foreign aid problem