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No Vacancy in Somalia

Posted: 07/25/11 10:36 AM ET

It's the kind of message you don't want to see in your inbox, but if you're at all human you have no choice but to scan its contents. It came from Ben Parsons from the Global Enrichment Foundation, a key organization determined to improve the chances of trained female leadership in places like East Africa. I had met Ben briefly during my political tenure and he always struck me as dedicated and serious -- traits that clearly came out in his message.

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The news wasn't good. He told about the Dadaab Refugee Camp, the world's largest, which received an additional 10,000 new refugees in just this past week. Initially established for some 90,000 desperate people, it has now swollen to some 400,000 and is expected to increase by another 100,000 near year's end. It's an ongoing saga of desperate human need. Any of us who have worked in such conditions recognize that, no matter the size of international response, it will never reach the levels required to provide ultimate solutions.

Dadaab is merely the tip of the iceberg. With 1,000 people or more arriving each day, residents of Somalia are facing the worst drought in 60 years. Limited access, a huge shortage of doctors for properly treating malnourished children, and acute shortages of water and food make for a tragic mix.

The Global Enrichment Foundation, among other organizations, has increased efforts to build emergency school spaces for the 9,000 kids that recently arrived at the camp. Few comprehend how critical this is, not just for the students but for the security of the region. Militia groups recruit young men from the camp in significant numbers and it's well known that basic education is the most powerful weapon in diverting young men from such marauding groups.

Currently some three million Somalis are at risk, but the famine has far greater extension that just Somalia. Kenya and Ethiopia are facing the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of Somalis flooding into their nations. Kenyan authorities say they have no chance of caring for such numbers and, sadly, are blocking UN efforts to open a new camp in Dadaab to absorb the overflow due to security fears.

Nobody in the West seems to want to talk climate change anymore, but for these African regions the lack of action brings fatal results. Rainy seasons have remained poor year after year. But the causes are greater than that, as any aid agency would know. Internal conflicts and the skyrocketing price of food is ruining any chance for recovery.

Since the Somali debacle years ago (remember Black Hawk Down), western nations have been loathe to re-establish a concrete strategic plan for the region.

Canada's international development minister, Bev Oda, recently visited the region -- a visit that prompted her to announce $50 million more in government aid. One of the best things Canada could do would be to work its decades-old network of Kenyan contacts to urge the Kenyan government to permit the opening of the second camp in Dadaab. The camp is already largely in place and awaiting permission. With $50 million being only a beginning to address the needs of the region, it must find other ways to leverage more support. Opening the camp would be a good place to start.

Canadian Liberal leader Bob Rae recently made the eloquent observation that nature itself creates a drought, but it's human failure that produces a famine. While not fully accurate, it nevertheless captures the heart of East Africa's present crisis.

There is much we as Canadian citizens can do in the meantime. You can read the story of the Dadaab camp or you can support the heroic efforts of dedicated people like Ben Parsons at the Global Enrichment Foundation -- and help to get those emergency schools built. As world governments fail to bring sufficient resources to such vile conditions, it will, once more, be up to the people of Canada to carry the torch of humanitarianism and human compassion.

 

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