Seda ’12: Let’s not forget Somalia

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It is early summer in the year 2011, yet it feels like 1992 to the oldest residents of Somalia. For the second time in 20 years, a succession of days without rain has drained the soil and their hopes. The outlook is as bleak as ever. Family members are forced to pack their few belongings and abandon the place they once called home. The southward journey is long and ripe with uncertainties, but is there room left for choice? Extreme weather conditions and physical hardships are in store for those willing to risk the little they have for a second chance at life. Some family members will never make it. And the few that are still standing may not be able to do so for much longer. With any luck, one of them will make it safely across the border and into a protected area.

This is the familiar story of many immigrants who have fled their home countries in search of brighter opportunities and the promise of a better life. Without a doubt, this narrative still holds true for countless immigrants around the globe. Yet when this harrowing portrait acquires the face of the 1,500 human beings who cross the Somali border over to Kenya every day to escape a deadly famine, the rest of the world needs to act. And start acting now.

The east African nation of Somalia is living one of the worst chapters in its recent history. The United Nations estimates that more than half of the Somali population is now in “crisis” as a result of a widespread famine caused by a prolonged drought — the worst in 60 years. Currently, 12 million people are in critical condition, 750,000 of whom will be under immediate threat of death by famine over the next four months. Women and children are by far enduring the worst of the tragedy. It is no surprise that the “triangle of death” has now become the working metonymy for the geographical area of Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya known as the Horn of Africa.

For centuries, Africa has been the theater of multiple wars and political coups, not to mention instances of civil unrest and human rights abuse. Yet here we have a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented magnitude. This time, it is not the Somali pirates who are making headlines in Western newspapers, but the millions of starving Somali citizens who desperately flee from misery. As of today, Dadaab, the third-largest city in Kenya, is not only a refugee camp populated by thousands of Somalis, but it is also the largest refugee camp in the world.

It may seem like the solution to a famine is to pour in aid in the form of food supplies and medicines. That is a start — and one we can embrace with diligence. Yet we must also keep in mind the broader panorama that is at stake. A famine is not just a shortage or a complete lack of food — it is a deeper problem that can metastasize and tear down the infrastructure of any nation. Somalia has already begun to see this happen in the poverty-stricken areas that are becoming even poorer, in the massive exodus of Somalis that totals in the millions and in the skyrocketing rates of crime and violence that further exacerbate the existing tensions along the Somali-Kenyan border.

So far, the UN’s World Food Programme, Oxfam, the Red Cross, UNICEF and several other humanitarian organizations have taken the first steps toward helping the Somali refugees in Kenya and those who are still in Somalia. But there is always more that can be done. And here at Brown, we can do our part.

Although the University’s latest Plan for Academic Enrichment report anticipates the creation of a cultural year with a “Focus on Africa” in the near future, some action has to be taken now. We do not need — and, in fact, we cannot afford — to wait until the situation reaches record-breaking levels of famine and death (if the numbers are still not alarming enough) to mobilize and reach out to the Somali population. Just as the Brown community’s response to the natural disasters in Haiti and Japan was speedy and effective, our response to Somalia must reflect our long-term commitment to this cause. Food drives and fund-raising events, such as benefit concerts and cultural workshops,  are accessible ways in which Brown students can contribute their part and motivate fellow students to get involved. Lecture series and panels can very well raise awareness on the severity of the Somali tragedy and encourage dialogue among professors, students and other members of the Brown community.

In the end, no effort, however small, is wholly negligible. So let us not forget about Somalia. We are citizens of the planet, and it would be a terrible injustice to do so.

Lucia Seda ’12 urges you to care about Somalia now. She can be reached at

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