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?