People are starving to death in 2011. Why?

We've got the money, the logistical and security capability. There is a geo-political case and a mor

Serious question. Why, in 2011, are we letting people starve to death?

It's such a basic one, it almost feels trite to ask it. In fact, somewhere along the way, it ceased to be a question. More a statement of moral outrage. Or, depending on your perspective, one of supreme naivety.

But I'll ask again. In 2011, why are we letting people starve to death? According to the UNHCR 1,700 people a day are, as you read this article, streaming across the Somali border with Kenya and Ethiopia. They, to an extent, are the lucky ones. That figure doesn't include the elderly or sick that are left behind, or the children who died along the way.

Why? I don't just mean why morally. Why logistically; practically?

Cost? The UN refugee agency has just launched an appeal for US$144 million to provide emergency relief, about £88 million. Why are they having to even appeal for that amount of money? In global terms that's not petty cash, it's not even the change you'd find down the back of Barack Obama's sofa, austerity package, or no austerity package. Actually, try asking those people trekking across the Somali wastelands what austerity looks like.

A report by Brown University estimated the cost of the combined wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to be to be in the range of $3 to $4 trillion. The Treasury has admitted the UK alone is currently spending £3 million a day on the operation in Libya, and that's not even a proper war, just an "intervention". We've got the money. Were just not spending it right.

Again, why? In Somalia, innocent people are dying at the hands of brutal local warlords, as they are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. A region is being destabilised. As in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The internal governance of the nation has imploded -- something we're spending billions trying to reverse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

I don't remember seeing campaigns for any of those operations. Charity singles. Celebrity appeals; "Just £5 will help buy the bullet that could stop one insurgent oppressing an entire village for a whole month".

When crisis like Iraq and Afghanistan develop we somehow manage to open the cheque book, get the heavy lift aircraft in the air, and ask questions later. But when people are starving to death in numbers al-Qaeda's most fanatical terrorists could only dream of, we are suddenly turned to stone.

Is it logistics? It can't be logistics. When the Haitian earthquake struck, satellite imagery was used to pinpoint the devastation in remote areas, and Nasa deployed special radar imaging aircraft to locate areas of possible aftershock. The United States Navy tasked an entire US carrier group to assist in the relief operation and the US Air Force managed over a hundred daily relief flights into and out of Port au Prince airport.

Some have said there are issues of security. World Food Program spokeswoman Emilia Casella recently told reporters that the UN is asking for assurances of security, and the ability to have full access to deliver and distribute aid in southern Somalia. Why? If there are people disrupting the flow of aid we should get a large number of those Marines and Paras, who are not going to be putting their boots on the ground in Libya, over to Somalia. Then if anyone tries to disrupt the relief effort, we can quickly and efficiently kill them. We've done it in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and demonstrated we're very good at it.

Is it a lack of political will? Again, it can't be. Even David Cameron -- hard cutting, belt-tightening, time to stop maxing out the credit card, David Cameron -- has publically stated overseas aid and development is a priority for his government. As recently as June, he told the Observer, "I don't believe it would be right to ignore the difference we can make, turn inwards solely to our own problems and effectively balance our books while breaking our promises to the world's poorest. Instead, we should step up, deliver on our promises to the world's poorest and help save millions of lives".

We've got the money. We've got the logistical capability. We've got the security capability. There is a regional case. A geo-political case. A moral case. We have the political will. I'm damn sure we have the public will.

So I ask again, and I'm genuinely not preaching, or making an appeal. It's 2011. People are starving to death. Why?


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Battle for Mosul: will this be the end of Islamic State?

The militant group's grip on power is slipping but it has proved resilient in the past.

The battle for Mosul is the latest stage in the long struggle to defeat Islamic State. The group has been around since the late 1990s in one form or another, constantly mutating in response to its environment. Undoubtedly its ejection from Mosul will be a significant moment in the group’s history, but it is unlikely to be its final chapter. The destruction of the group will only be complete when some fundamental changes occur within Iraq and the war in Syria comes to an end.

IS’s roots go back to a training camp established by the militant Islamist Abu Musab al Zarqawi in the late 1990s in Herat, Afghanistan. Founded as an army to overthrow the apostate regimes of the Levant, it fled to northern Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 where it re-established itself as a force alongside Ansar al Shariah, a hardline Salafi jihadi organisation.

As American attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, the group was ideally placed to become one of the leading lights in the post-Saddam Iraqi insurgency. Brutally announcing itself to the world in August 2003 with successive attacks on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the UN headquarters and a Shia shrine in Najaf — the latter being the deadliest attack in Iraq that year with a death toll of 95 — the group grew to assume the mantle of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By 2006 this brand had become somewhat damaged through the brutal sectarian campaign the group waged, and when its founder, Zarqawi, died it sought to reinvent itself as the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This incarnation did not last long either, and eventually it assumed the title of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), alongside a more Iraqi leadership.

This was the start of a diffcult period in the group's history. Its excesses in Iraq (including indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims to stir sectarian hatred and filmed decapitations of prisoners) lost it local support and led to the tribes in Sunni Iraq rising up and supporting the government in Baghdad's fight back against the group. By 2009, when the west abruptly stopped paying attention and withdrew from Iraq the group was largely perceived as in decline, with the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government appearing to slowly assert itself more effectively across the country.

The terrorist attacks by the group continued. And the new government started to advance an increasingly sectarian agenda. These two played off each other in a downward spiral that was given a fresh boost of blood when the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011. Drawing on its existing networks (that were leftovers from when Syria was used as a staging point by the organisation to launch attacks into Iraq), the leadership sent a cell to Syria to explore what opportunities existed within the emerging fight there. This cell became the seed that grew into Jabhat al Nusrah and ultimately IS – a label the group adopted when in June 2013 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided it was time to reveal this link between his Iraqi group and Jabhat al Nusrah. This led to divisions and the breaking up of the two organisations.

For IS, however, it was the beginning of an upward trajectory, building on this division to grow itself substantially in Syria (with Raqqa as its capital) and in 2014 taking over Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul. We then reach the apex of IS’s success and the biggest expansion of the group yet.

It now seems that this growth had a shelf life of just two-and-a-half years. As the group appears to be losing Mosul, it is likely that we will see the beginning of a period of retraction. But this will not be its end – rather, it will flee back to the hills and the ungoverned spaces in Iraq and Syria from where it will continue a persistent terrorist strategy in both countries. Here it will bide its time until the moment presents itself to rise up. Waiting until the governance in Iraq and Syria fails its people again, the group can paint itself as the protector of Sunnis and once more build on that group's disenfranchisement to win supporters and occupy a space vacated by local governments.

IS's grip on power might currently be slipping but as history has shown, it has waxed and waned depending on the context it is operating in. We are now going to see a period of withdrawal, but unless attention is paid by the global community, it will expand again in the future.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Visit his website at