Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ramadan and the 2011 Somalia Famine: A Great Need for Zakat, Sadaqa, Charity; A Reluctant Response

Somali refugees in Dagahaley refugee camp carry their sick and malnourished children to a new feeding center run by Doctors Without Borders on the outskirts of the sprawling refugee camp in Kenya.

It seems that each Ramadan that I have been blogging a specific cause for charitable aid emerges from the many in my consciousness--whether in the form of zakat (the Muslim obligation of annual charity representing 2.5% of a Muslim's wealth beyond necessities), sadaqa (the Muslim recommendation of charity in other forms) or universal caritas (caring, kindness, and giving to others). Two years ago it was a more personal one, yet tapping into the broader issues of domestic violence, divorce law in Muslim countries, and the fate of Western wives and their children when life in the husband's home country goes awry. Last year it was the flooding in Pakistan. This year it is the famine in the eastern part of the Horn of Africa, with the southeastern parts of Somalia the most affected.

Somali refugees wait in line at the reception center at Ifo camp. Refugees must first go to reception centers for health screening, immunization and finger printing. They will be given an appointment to be registered as refugees.

A Somali refugee girl sits perched on a tree in Ifo camp.

I have deliberately avoided the most graphic pictures of starving, dehydrated children, because at some point I think such pictures repel, due to their sense of hopelessness and helplessness, and paradoxically, at some point the observer becomes inured to their impact. The end result of overexposure to these images is a weary conclusion that the phenomenon is endemic, inevitable, and will inexorably repeat, so that not giving seems only a postponing to the next time.

A young boy takes bone-thin cattle in search of pasture at the edge of Dagahaley refugee camp in Kenya. Many recently arrived Somali refugees have lost all of their animals to the ravishing effects of a prolonged drought in Somalia.

Daud Ali, a severely malnourished child at a Doctors Without Borders' therapeutic feeding center in Dagahaley camp.

Doctors Without Borders pediatrician Luana Lima checks on patients at the aid group's hospital in Dagahaley refugee camp.

Patients are ferried in an impromptu ambulance en route to the Doctors Without Borders hospital. Measles and malnutrition are growing problems in the overcrowded Kenyan camp near the Somali border.

A Somali refugee woman cradles her baby after dousing her elder daughter with water to keep cool under the sweltering sun.

Refugees wait at a reception center immediately after arriving from Somalia. The registration process, which is key for refugees to get a regular, predictable and adequate supply of food, has become backlogged forcing many to wait two months to be formally recognized.

A Somali mother enters the hospital ward for severely malnourished children in Ifo camp near Dadaab, Kenya.

A Somali refugee woman drags parched branches of a tree to use in constructing a shelter on the outskirts of Ifo camp in Dadaab, Kenya. The UNHCR camp is the largest refugee camp in the world. Tens of thousands have arrived in a steady exodus from Somalia's drought and civil war.

A refugee uses twigs and scraps of material to build a shelter for her family. There is no room for most new arrivals in the Dadaab camps, so the thousands of people who arrive every week must carve out a place for themselves in the surrounding desert. Doctors Without Borders estimates that by the end of 2011 there will be 500,000 people living in and around the camps, which were originally built to accommodate 90,000.

Young girls and women wait to collect water from a water point at Ifo extension. UNHCR began moving families from the self-settled areas at the outskirts of the camp to Ifo extension in July 2011.

I have deliberately included pictures of adults, men and women, to remind that not only infants and small children suffer and die. Adults may elicit less sympathy but they are no less traumatized, even if they survive. Men and women try to provide for their children as best they can, and face and take responsibility for resisting aggressors, or not, for staying or leaving on a perilous journey in the hope of surviving it and receiving life-saving aid. Men and women try to save livestock, and possessions. While women may feel a special sense of failure of being unable to provide even breast milk to their children, men feel a special sense of having failed as providers and protectors of their families. All families will feel the pain of those who died, were left behind, or had to be abandoned en route.

Fatuma Badel fled Buale, Somalia with 8 children after leaving her sick husband. "He became sick and I couldn't carry him. I don't know if he is alive or dead. This one, my youngest child was like a dead person when I arrived. Now I thank God I can hear him cry again." Badel has spent 3 days in the Doctors Without Borders hospital with her baby, Mohamud, who arrived severely malnourished.

A father cradles his severely malnourished child on a bus provided by UNHCR and IOM to move a group of stranded and vulnerable refugees from Hamey, Kenya. Most refugees make the journey from the border to the camps by foot at great peril. The roads are lined with bandits and many women report being raped during the trek.

Malaboy, 26, cradles her severely malnourished baby, Mahad, 2. The family arrived in June after fleeing drought and war in Baidabo, Bay region, Somalia. The journey took them 20 days. During their journey, they were set upon by bandits who beat the adults. Mahad was later admitted to a therapeutic feeding center.

There are special populations among the adults who are more vulnerable to the effects of the famine and the arduous journey: those with pre-existing illnesses or disabilities, the elderly, women in the late stages of pregnancy or immediately post-partum. Both men and women are vulnerable to bandits, and have been beaten, robbed, raped (men and women), and killed.

A young Somali refugee boy and his terminally ill mother, Haretha Abdi at Dadaab refugee camp, near the border of Kenya and Somalia in the horn of Africa. (Brendan Bannon/Polaris Images)

UNHCR protection officer, Mehreen Afzal, expedites registration for Qatmo Lidow Hussien, a handicapped refugee frrom Hagar, Somalia who arrived at the reception center in a wheelbarrow with her family.

Twenty year old Abdi Hassan, a nomadic camel herder was beaten to a point of paralysis by al-Shabaab soldiers when he refused to allow them to take some of his camels as a tax. He fled Salagale by road with his wife and other relatives to Ifo Camp. He has been in the hospital since arriving in Kenya.

Mariam Mohamud, 30, gave birth to a baby girl during the night. Mariam wrapped her child in a red cloth and holds her at a health-screening center run by Doctors Without Borders in Dagahaley refugee camp.

Somali refugees dig the grave of Ibrahim Issack, a six-year-old child who died of complications of severe malnutrition a month after arriving in the camp, according to his uncle Hassan Issack. "We fled Buaale and traveled for 21 days by foot. It was very tiresome. we walked through drought with no food and little water. Along the way we were robbed and women were raped."

A neighbor digs the grave of Raba Hassan, a 35-year-old refugee from Somalia. Hassan arrived two months ago after a 290 km journey from Sakow, Somalia. Her five children survive her.

The response to this famine has been slow, even reluctant. The famine was foreseeable, due to predicted and then early drought, yet despite warnings, there was little preventive intervention. Such intervention, and now major relief efforts require not only the efforts of NGOs and individuals, but commitments by national governments around the world. These have been slow in coming and are not up to the amounts required to provide even emergency relief to the massive numbers of refugees arriving daily at UN camps or their outskirts.

This reluctance might be explained, though not justified, by the economic recession worldwide, and the number of Western countries on the brink of economic collapse. It may also reflect attitudes towards Somalia in particular. Somalia seems to come in and out of Western consciousness and usually in a negative way. Somali pirates, and Islamist terrorists are the ones who make the headlines, and draw the international attention of governments, the media, and the general populace. More significantly, Somalia is the place of a marked and humiliating US and UN failure.

In response to the 1991-2 Somali famine, induced by the civil war and its disruption of both agriculture and food distribution, the UN, and the US in particular, responded with both military and humanitarian interventions deemed necessary because of the state of civil war in the country. The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down, First Battle of Mogadishu) was a resounding failure, and led to US withdrawal from Somalia, with the UN forces following on. It ended the military and formal governmental relief efforts, and allowed Somalia to become, and remain to this day, a failed state (Canada has its own humiliations and their consequences about actions by its military in Somalia).

The aftermath would take its toll on further decisions about intervention and relief, notably in Rwanda's civil war, with disastrous consequences. The graphic and horrific photos of American soldiers' dead bodies dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu have discouraged governments, their militaries, and their civilian populations from wishing to intervene in civil wars even where the UN has a mandate to prevent genocide. Most recently this has played in the spin on events in certain MENA countries of the Arab Spring where US and international interests are not obvious, yet there should be an intervention (broadly defined, and not including neo-colonialism) to prevent genocide, or at least human rights violations, and blockades of resources to certain towns, cities, and populations. "Tribalism", "sectarianism" and "civil war" are all code words in the spin to justify non-intervention, non-condemnation, non-action in places like Libya (initially, and in discussions now about continuing NATO intervention), Bahrain, and Yemen (even more off the media radar than Bahrain)--Syria seems to be a "special case" of this justification for delayed response, and "other interests".

Even the celebrity response to this famine is more subdued, in comparison to that of the Live Aid concerts and recordings for relief for Ethiopia during the 1984-5 famine there. Live Aid benefitted from better economic times and more exuberance in the mid-1980's, from Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, from the cause being more novel, and perhaps from Ethiopia being a more sympathetic (and Christian), if relatively unknown, country. Since then there has been greater disenchantment with the ability of such efforts to effect results commensurate with their initiative, and more skepticism about relief reaching the victims--in part as a direct result of corruption and banditry during that effort. Also, since then, the technology that allowed for then innovative simultaneous live broadcasts of concerts from London, New York, and Los Angeles has been surpassed by the simultaneity and globalization of the Internet and Livestream capacities.

The celebrity relief effort for Somalia 2011 (and the other less affected, but also suffering, areas and peoples of the Horn of Africa)--I'm Gonna Be Your Friend--relies heavily on social media: Website, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and online payment via Paypal. It is no less sincere, and relies on the inspiration of the Bob Marley song "High Tide, Low Tide" to inform and generate funds. It also has the advantage of partnering with the highly respected aid agency Save the Children--which has a good track record of using funds wisely and getting aid to the people who need it--as part of the latter's broader relief effort for East Africa.

Pick your song. Help in what ever way and amount you are able.

A severely malnourished child in Dagahaley. Hundreds of Somali refugees are arriving each day having fled drought, famine and civil war in Somalia.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Ramadan and the Mixed Couple/Family
Ramadan, Zakat, Sadaqa, and Charity:
When Mixed Marriages Go Awry, and Mixed Families Suffer;
They're Off!;
Eid Al-Fitr and Thanks Giving:
"Do you believe in miracles?"
Coolred and the Gang, a Ramadan Miracle One Year On--Living the American Dream!

Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Life in the time of the cholera?
Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Parts II, III, and IV: The Floods and Sociobiology; The Response; Katrina 5 Years On
Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Part V--Not sure what to do with your zakat?
Pakistan's 2010 Ramadan Flood Victims One Year Later

Ramadan: A Special Month
Ramadan 2010---As the Month Comes to a Close (includes links to all Ramadan related posts 2009-10).

*The pictures of Somali refugees used here are from Boston.com's The Big Picture, "Dadaab Refuge Camp" where more by photojournalist Brendan Bannon can be viewed.

Fresh graves in Dagahaley, part of the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp. Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have fled to Kenya. Many arrive in the refugee camp exhausted and malnourished after a perilous journey from drought and war torn Somalia. Hundreds have died in the camp as a consequence of malnutrition.

A group of Somali refugees travel back to the area where they are staying on the far outskirts of Dagahaley camp, near Dadaab, Kenya.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Thank you for your restrained and informative account of the situation in the Horn of Africa.
We all need to make a contribution that is a painful about for us to give. I managed and I am glad that the Canadian government will match it, over and about a surprisingly generous donation from our Conservative government.

Wendy said...

Did you donate through World Vision or ... ?

oby said...

I am wondering if the world in general is wary of corruption that seems to be attendant in many many donation situations (not just Somalia and not just Muslim causes). I have heard some people say (and not in relation to this particular situation) "if only I could be sure the money I give gets to the people who need it..." They hear often about food being donated to the people or goods that are waylayed well short of the drop off point to do any good and either held hostage or flat out stolen and later sold on the black market. I am not sure that is a misplaced feeling. A very good friend of mine is actively involved in Haiti even now still trying to recover from their disaster and the stories she tells of the forces on the ground (normal people and relief workers) trying to do good..USA and others...working in the trenches with the people trying to get things accomplished would make ones hair stand on end...in particular one situation comes to mind. They were trying to get food to people and the truck was hijacked and held for ransom. They did not have money (enough anyway) to get it back and the food never got where it should have. Evidently this sort of thing is not a rarity...

I think people want to help and in many ways still do help despite the things that they hear, but they are wary...and perhaps a little disaster weary as it seems that they are coming so fast and furious now a days.

It might surprise you (as it did me) that the Fox channel for several days (at the time I saw it) was running a banner consistently across the bottom of its news programs encouraging people to donate to somalia. I don't generally watch news TV especially around dinnertime, but it was that way a week or so ago when I was out of town.

Wendy said...

Isn't Fox news kinda a scary place to get unbiased news in the US? :D
Canada's various channels often seem to be running banners and ads on donating.

I also worry about monies actually getting to the people. There are some NGOs where the money goes direct to the place. I don't know about World Vision so hopefully somebody can give us some good info on the best ways to donate.

oby said...

Thinking about it I seemed to remember that donations for Japan were not very good either. Certainly not due to it being a Muslim country...most likely due to it being perceived as a wealthy country.



I do think you are right about people perceiving Somalia as such a large problem that never seems to be fixed that a sense of helplessness sets in..I would not say apathy because I do think people feel moved by starving people, particularly children, but a sense that "this is so big it cannot be fixed."

Susanne said...

I remember reading about people perceiving problems as too big so they end up doing little to nothing. Like "what will my few dollars do for a problem so vast?" Rather researchers found if you can say "your donation can help Fatima's family" (kind of like when you sponsor an individual child),people are much more likely to donate. They feel they can help Fatima (if not millions of others in Somalia) in a good way by their donation. Perhaps if the Somalia crisis were broken down in these ways, more people would donate.

Chiara sponsors Maha

Wendy sponsors Dania

Oby sponsors Suroor

Susanne sponsors Amina

and so forth...you get the idea.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I think of the poor Somalians regularly. I, too, hope they get the help they need and it is not going to those Islamic extremists.

Think of how beneficial it would be if that dude who wrote his name so that it was seen from way up high had put that money into sponsoring bunches of food for Somalians, his brothers and sisters in Islam.


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