Pearl Alice Marsh from ONE’s policy team explains what it takes to get food aid safely to those who need it most.
The crisis in the Horn of Africa presents a major logistical challenge for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and other international humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis. But moving emergency food to destinations in Somalia is particularly challenging. It requires procuring and moving large amounts of food from all corners of the globe through treacherous waters and vulnerable ports, roads and bridges, to incredibly hard-to-reach places in one of the most dangerous locations on earth.
Boxes of food aid from USAID. Photo credit: Josh Lozman/ONE
Food aid delivered by the WFP comes from large- and small-scale agricultural producers in Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, Oceana and Asia (check out this map in the graphic).
The WFP is the United Nations’ organization designated by the international community to provide humanitarian food aid. Worldwide, WFP feeds 90 million people in more than 70 countries annually. According to WFP, “At any given time, [it] has 30 ships at sea, 70 aircrafts in the sky and 5,000 trucks on the ground, moving food and other assistance to where it is needed most.” Large storage facilities within proximity of the famine areas, like Djibouti, Kenya and South Africa, allow WFP to pre-position and stockpile food for a prompt response to the Somalia emergency.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia is an additional obstacle to food delivery for the famine. Humanitarian aid vessels are not exempt from the threat piracy poses to the global shipping industry traversing the coastline waters of Somalia. Food aid traveling from Djibouti to Mogadishu must traverse the narrow straits of the Gulf of Aiden and the long Indian Ocean coastline to the Somali harbors in Mogadishu and Bossasso.
The European Union Naval Force (EU NavFor) Atalanta Mission, in accordance with a UN Security Council mandate, is charged to protect shipments to Somalia from the WFP and the UN-backed peacekeepers, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The EU NavFor consists of available contingents from 29 countries. Most recently, a German Navy frigate joined EU NavFor for a three-month deployment to escort WFP and AMISOM vessels through the treacherous Somali waters. Earlier this summer, a Chinese warship escorted a WFP vessel through the Gulf of Aiden.
Once the food arrives at the Mogadishu and Bossasso seaports, it is up to AMISOM to protect the food as it is unloaded and stored for distribution. AMISOM also provides security for roads and bridges rehabilitated for key distribution corridors that allow humanitarian organizations to reach people in need.
Twenty years of internal warfare has left Somalia with little passable infrastructure and administrative capacity to manage food distribution. A country the size of Texas, Somalia has 13,732 miles of road of which approximately 1,621 miles are paved. Texas has 152,054 miles of road.
AMISOM forces do not operate in the famine areas controlled by Al Shabaab, the armed insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda. AMISOM’s sphere of control is limited to the greater Mogadishu area. Somalis living in South Central Somalia are receiving minimal amounts of food and is the majority facing hunger and starvation.
Since 2007, the UN-backed African Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) has provided critical security for vital infrastructure including the airport, seaport, storage facilities and key humanitarian corridors in Mogadishu to aid local NGOs access feeding sites. Al Shabaab has posed a constant threat to AMISOM militarily and killed some of its troops as they battle to maintain access for humanitarian aid.
As the international community responds to the emergency in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa, we must simultaneously begin efforts to build a sustainable food security system for the region. The droughts are predictable and need not result in the human devastation experienced in Somalia today.
Investments in drought-resistance seeds, agricultural risk management and agricultural development can secure a hunger-free and prosperous future for the people living in the Horn of Africa.
Stay tuned to ONE.org for more details about how you can help change this picture in the Horn of Africa.