Developing strategies to end hunger

Fragile- But Not Broken

It is not what you have been hearing about Somalia since famine struck last year.

At this time last year, the United Nations had declared that conditions in six areas of Somalia met the definition of famine. Among the people worst-affected were small farmers and agro-pastoralists who had no reserve supplies of cereals and could not afford to purchase these staple foods. Across Somalia, in just one year, the prices of the two major food crops produced domestically—red sorghum and white maize—had increased by between 30 and 240 percent, and 50 and 154 percent, respectively. Somalia also has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world.

Somalia has experienced several years of civil war and has been without a central government since 1991. In 2009, 3.2 million people were in need of food assistance as a result of internal displacement, conflict, and drought. The same combination of causes is responsible for the 2011 famine, only this time it was much worse because food was so much more expensive.

But today I have encouraging news.

Somalia's Parliament just elected a new President of the country, a move that members of the international community say is a key step toward the country's transition from a war-torn failed state. According to Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a political newcomer, won the election against outgoing President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed by the legislative vote of 190 to 79.

This is definitely a big step in the right direction. But Somalia remains a fragile state with enormous challenges, as do other fragile nations. 

As the world celebrates progress on the global fight against poverty, a group of 45 countries in situations of acute fragility- including Somalia, continue to fall behind. The tragedy is that not one low-income country affected by conflict has achieved a single Millenium Development Goal (MDG). Children living in a country affected by conflict are twice as likely to be hungry and nearly three times as likely to be out of school as children in a low-income country that is free of conflict. In addition, the global financial crisis, social unrest, growing population pressures and environmental degradation may lead to new or renewed situations of fragility.

The importance of promoting community stability and resilience cannot be overemphasized, in countries like Somalia. As I pointed out in Bread for the World Institutes's Briefing Paper- Making Development Assitance Work Better, fragile and conflict-affected states present very specific challenges to aid effectiveness efforts as well as to other humanitarian and development needs. For the development and stabilization of these countries, aid is one part of the equation. The coherence of global policies on agriculture, trade, investment, security, energy, migration and other key sectors matters just as much as aid volumes. At the same time, aid can have a vital, countercyclical role, particularly in times of turmoil. For this role to be realized, however, aid needs to be targeted towards strengthening institutions as well as peacebuilding initiatives.

A sobering reality is that while over a third of total Official Development Assistance (ODA) goes to fragile states, the monitoring survey of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness shows that the quality of this aid is markedly poorer than in other developing countries. Although contexts in fragile states are indeed characterized by high level of need and limited capacity of institutions, it is for these very reasons that aid should be more effective.

Evidence suggests that helping a country emerge from its status as a fragile state takes years of patient capital and cooperation.This also means that successful efforts to strengthen institutions in countries like Somalia will be built upon effective  coordination, both within national governments and the international community. This cooperation must be participatory and promote the constructive involvement of civil society as well as the private sector, and a willingness to make hard long-term commitments to achieve results.

They may be fragile, but not broken.


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