Q&A: Somali-American Speaks on Famine Crisis

Q&A: Somali-American Speaks on Famine Crisis

Somali human-rights advocate Sadia Ali Aden sheds light on the mood of the diaspora, what’s happening on the ground and how Black Americans can help.

Published August 10, 2011

By now, many of us have seen the shocking images online and on television of scores of African children, emaciated and with sunken faces and bloated stomachsa result of the historically devastating famine currently happening in the Horn of Africa.


In recent months, the Horn of Africa—which includes Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti—has been slammed by a brutal drought that has left about 12.4 million people needing aid due to widespread famine, according to the United Nations.


While it’s tough seeing these images from our screens in America, one can only imagine the special pain members of the Somali Diaspora must feel seeing their native homeland endure so much suffering.


Washington, D.C., area-based Somali rights advocate Sadia Ali Aden, co-founder of Adar Foundation, Somali Diaspora Youth and the founder of Diaspora Voice spoke to BET.com to shed some light on the mood of local Somali-Americans, what she thinks of media coverage of the famine thus far and how she thinks Black Americans can make a difference.


BET.com: What are some of the various ways members of the Somali Diaspora are working to address the nation’s devastating famine?


Sadia Ali Aden: The famine has been the single most unifying issue bringing Somalis—especially those in the Diaspora—together. The Somali Diaspora members have been reaching out to all those who could help alleviate this human tragedy. They have been forging collaborative efforts with all governmental, non-governmental and international institutions who are on the ground or are willing to help. 


What are some of the successes or challenges that have been encountered?


At this particular stage, there are more challenges to report than successes. Of course, pockets of services are being delivered, but hardly adequate. Per what are the successful models, I am not sure if the dust has settled down enough to objectively access that. The challenges, however, are that people are on the move for survival. They are walking hundreds of miles to reach feeding centers or refugee camps where countless numbers of them [especially children] are dying through that extremely harsh journey of survival.   


What are some of the stories you’re hearing from Somalis living in Somalia?


They are saying that this is the worst that they have ever experienced. The prolonged drought has created severe food shortage, and that this shortage is impacting every market and every person. The food prices are skyrocketing. 


What do you think about the media coverage of the situation so far?


Reactive, at best! This human tragedy did not develop overnight; it was in the making for over two years. The question is how many stories were written, covered or reported by major newspapers, magazines, TV stations and internet sites? Not until certain areas within Somalia were declared famine-stricken that the major news media started covering. That is a shame, to say the least.


Do you believe international organizations like the United Nations an Oxfam have adequately involved Somali organizations in their relief efforts?


Their involvement of Somali organizations is very minimal, if at all. They often cite reasons such as security and governance. However, there are political, economic and the desire to continue business as usual aspects of this as well.


Why is getting Somali organizations involved important?


There are a number of Somali organizations that are registered here in the U.S. that have IRS tax exempt status under 501(c)(3) and comply to the U.S. and international laws, that are effectively providing humanitarian services. By and large, these organizations are more effective than their much larger, much more bureaucratic and much more costly counterparts.


How can we help?


Our African-American brothers and sisters, as professionals, business people, policy makers, religious leaders and lay people, could all help either individually or organizationally. They could contribute financially to organizations such as Adar Foundation, Amoud Foundation, ARAHA, Aadamiga Somalia and Somali Fund. They could educate others about this issue and mobilize them to help. They could lobby their congressional representatives to increase aid to Somalia and earmarking a good percentage of the aid money to purchase a specific lifesaving product called PulmpyNut. This is a product that organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are calling the “miracle food” because of the immediate nourishment that it gives to skeletal children on the verge of death by starvation.    



(Photo: AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

Written by Hortense M. Barber


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