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Somalia's Humanitarian Crisis: Worse than Darfur?

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

WPR contributors David Axe and Daria Solovieva are both en route to Somalia as we speak, where they'll be filing stories in the coming weeks on the difficult security and humanitarian situation there. Today we published the first dispatch of their trip, written from Nairobi, in which they provide a good overview of the situation in the Horn of Africa country.

What particularly caught our eye is this paragraph, about the dire humanitarian crisis in Somalia (bolding added):

Somalia now represents the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, even worse than the one in Darfur, according to U.N. World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon. Many aid workers have fled the country, and a lack of infrastructure, piracy and highway banditry make Somalia "one of the worst operating environments in the world" for those who remain, Smerdon says. He estimates that more than 17 percent of the Somali population is malnourished, most of them women and children. Shootings at food distribution points have shut down World Food Program operations in Somalia three times this year and prompted a shift towards so-called "wet" distribution -- that is, handing out cooked food that cannot be stolen and sold on the black market. The first wet handouts are slated for this week in Mogadishu.

The Darfur diary of Kurt Pelda, the last installment of which we will publish today, lends support to the idea that the situation in Darfur, although still dire, has achieved a kind of tragic stalemate in which the sort of atrocities that marked the early stages of the conflict are fewer and farther between. Judging by the amount of fighting Pelda witnesses, the rebel-controlled areas in which he traveled, although ravaged by past atrocities, seemed to be relatively secure at present.

The task of ranking humanitarian crises on a scale of severity is a cruel one, but if one had the stomach for it, it would be necessary to ask if the situation in D.R. Congo, which is apparently poised to explode into war again, might also rank higher than that in Darfur.