Horn of Africa: the Somali people are paying the price of international indifference

famine somali.JPGThe photograh shows the arm of a seven-month-old child with a weight of 3.4kg held by his mother in a field hospital in the town of Dadaab, Kenya.

The U.N. has announced it will airlift emergency rations this week to parts of drought-ravaged Somalia that militants banned it from more than two years ago, in a crisis intervention to keep hungry refugees from dying along what an official calls the "roads of death." 

Tens of thousands already have trekked to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, hoping to get aid in refugee camps. Many, especially the more vulnerable, dying on the way.

Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, speaks of the pain of having to witness the death of probably thousands of people without being able to intervene. 

Speaking to Linda Bordoni, Michel Roy says the UN has said it will go in to Somalia, but he cannot see how they will be able to operate within the country's political and administrate frame. "How can we accept - he says - both as human beings and as states, that that country remain in such a desperate situation?". And Roy epresses his belief that this famine must raise the awareness of the international community that, in turn, has to intervene: "we cannot leave Somalia as it is now". He goes on to say that probably Somalia does not arouse the interests of the international community because it has no natural resources in large quantities... 

"We as christians" - Roy points out "witness the death of our brothers and sisters who are dying and it is a terrible situation to know they are dying and not be able to rescue them". The situation there - he concludes - is proof that we have failed, internationally. 

There are also millions facing famine in Ehiopia in Kenya and in Sudan as well - but they are reachable and we are acting on that emergency to save lives. 

And Michel Roy expresses his wish to turn the attention on one very specific country we do not hear of at all: that is Eritrea. The country - he explains - is led by a very strict military dictatorship and the Church there is not allowed to do much more than within the walls of the churches themselves. The government restricts the activity of the Church that still has the responsibility of some hospitals, health centres and schools because the government does not have the resources to take over. And in terms of emergency response, it is almost impossible for Caritas Eritrea to act because the government does not allow it to do so. It keeps on saying there is not problem in Eritrea. So - says Michel Roy - let's call the attention of the world to what is happening in Eritrea. The predicament there is a dire one, the educated part of the population has left the country and ideology is taking over reality. The Church there is in a very difficult situation. 

And South Sudan - Michel Roy- points out - in its Eastern part is also touched by the drought. The new state of South Sudan, he says, which needs support in every field, right now needs special support also because of the drought.

To the question "are there any other suffering nations far from the attention of the international community you would like to highlight at the moment?" Roy answers that the focus is really on the Horn of Africa right now because of the drought and famine, but he calls attention to the Central African Republic which is not far from the Horn of Africa, a nation - he says - where the governement is very weak, where the situation inside the country is very unstable, and the Eastern part, one third of the country is not administered. And moving South, there are problems in Malawi right now for other reasons. The neglected crises - he says - are usually where there are no economic interests on the part of rich nations. 

Roy says that now the alarm has been raised, and the UN has requested 2 billion dollars. We know they have over one billion at hand, however the response of the governemnts and of the UN is not enough: civil society organizations, NGOs and Caritas organisations are much closer to the people, so it is important - he explains - to match the reponse of the international community to the response of "peoples" groups. Caritas may benefit from some of the money raised by the UN, but it is also important for Caritas to be able to act autonomously - especially the local Caritas organisztions in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Northern Somalia and South Sudan - they need money to go further.

And he said: "each and every one of us can do something about it". 

Single individuals can participate and help make a difference through donations which will allow Caritas organisations on the ground to provide aid. 

Roy concludes pointing out that solidarity between the Caritas organisations worldwide is very strong, and that not only the "rich" Northern Caritas offices will be sending money, but also the Southern ones, in Africa, Asia and so on. This is the beauty of the confederation - coming together when there is such distress somewhere in the world. 

Finally - says Roy - we are all responsible, and beyond this present moment when solidarity is very much needed, we have to raise the awareness - for example regarding Somalia - that something must be done and our respective governments have to get involved. Furthermore it's not a matter of just a few people in the UN, we must all ask for the Somali people to be able to live a peaceful life. 

listen to the full interview on Vatican Radio : >> RealAudioMP3 

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