Somalian Famine Increases Piracy Threat

Somalia is currently experiencing its worst famine in 60 years. Thousands of Somali refugees are fleeing across the border to Kenya and Ethiopia every day, overwhelming aid workers and putting a strain on already overpopulated refugee camps. Images of the famine reveal tremendous human suffering, especially among women and children. Journalists have documented stories of people walking for days through the desert in search of food; some have even died within sight of humanitarian relief.

As outsiders, who are not directly affected by the famine, it is easy to ignore the Horn of Africa. Fortunately, the international community has stepped up efforts to assist famine victims. Foreign governments and international aid organizations like the World Food Program, the Red Cross, and USAID have increased emergency food assistance. The aid is a welcome relief and will help alleviate the effects of hunger and displacement.

However, more must be done to prevent future famines, as even a stable Somalia has proven to be a major threat to international security. Famine only serves to destabilize an already failed state and increase piracy and terrorism. Food security in Somalia is tied to the physical security of countries around the world.

As a failed state, Somalia poses a major risk to other countries. Significant piracy activity in the last several years has threatened international shipping routes and led to several high-profile hostage situations. Shipping companies are taking special precautions to avoid pirates, and warships from nine countries are deployed to Somali waters to defend private shipping. To avoid pirate-infested areas, shipping companies pay millions of dollars per vessel annually. In 2011, 21 of the 26 ship hijackings worldwide were by Somali pirates. These pirates currently hold 23 vessels and 439 people hostage.

Terrorist networks, namely al-Shabaab, operate out of Somalia and could increase their presence in coming years. The British consulting firm Maplecroft listed Somalia as the world’s number one terrorism risk in 2010. The report identifies 556 terrorist incidents in Somalia, which resulted in 1,437 deaths and 3,408 injuries between June 2009 and June 2010. Furthermore, al-Shabaab had previously placed strict restrictions on foreign aid workers in Somalia that were only repealed earlier this month.

With so much endemic violence and instability in Somalia, effects of the famine in East Africa need to be mitigated. The international community maintains minimal influence on Somali politics, and rebuilding the country would be an impossible task. Famine relief efforts are a rare opportunity to increase stability and lessen the influence of pirates and militants, who take advantage of a desperate and lawless society.

The horrendous suffering taking place in Somalia is sufficient justification for humanitarian assistance. The fact that the aid could have indirect benefits for global security is an added bonus, and a reminder of how interconnected our world has become.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Paul Oliver

Paul lives and works in the nation's capital where he enjoys an up-close view of politics. He writes most weeks in the World section.

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