A Shift in Focus: Putting the interests of Somali people first | Somalia

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As key governments and institutions from the region and the wider Islamic and Western world gather in London on 23 February 2012 to review their approach to the crisis in Somalia, this paper highlights the need for more effective international engagement with the country’s ongoing humanitarian emergency. More than six months after the UN declared a famine, over 31 per cent of the population remains in urgent need of assistance, an escalation of the conflict is still forcing thousands of civilians from their homes, and expulsions and insecurity are making it increasingly difficult for aid agencies to reach those in need. While responsibility for this situation lies first and foremost with Somali warring factions, the international community has also been at fault. Policies focused more on international security concerns than on the needs, interests, and wishes of the Somali people have inadvertently fuelled both the conflict and the humanitarian crisis. An internationally backed escalation of regional military intervention since late 2011 presents grave risks for the civilian population and their access to assistance, which foreign governments and multilateral institutions have been slow to respond to. A dangerous conflation of humanitarian assistance with international security and state-building initiatives in Somalia, including counter-terrorism efforts, has fed perceptions among opposition groups that aid agencies are proxies of Western governments, further shrinking humanitarian space. It is unclear how long the current period of intense conflict across much of southern Somalia will continue. But we do know that as long as it does, the food crisis will persist in the affected areas. If millions of people in need are to benefit fully from the aid efforts of Somali civil society and international agencies, more systematic account must be taken of the humanitarian fallout of regional and international political and security initiatives. More coherent strategies are needed from regional, Western and Islamic stakeholders, focused on supporting inclusive Somali-led reconciliation and peace-building, while scaling up efforts to increase humanitarian access and coordination, and to build Somali resilience to future shocks.
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  Oxfam Briefing Note 22 February 2012 A Shift in Focus Putting the interests of Somali people first www.oxfam.org   Young residents of an IDP settlement in Mogadishu. Photo: HIJRA More than six months after the UN declared a famine, Somalia is still in the throes of its worst humanitarian crisis in decades, with 325,000 children suffering acute malnutrition and 31 per cent of the population estimated to be in crisis. A large scale-up of the international response from July 2011, combined with the efforts of Somali communities and civil society, saved many lives. But access to those in need has deteriorated due to expulsions of aid agencies and also to intensified, internationally backed military operations. The impact of drought is receding, yet the outlook for the more than 2.3 million Somalis still in need of humanitarian assistance is bleak. Responsibility for this situation lies first and foremost in Somalia, where warring factions are accused of impeding and diverting aid flows, but the international community has also been at fault. Policies focused more on international security concerns than on the needs, interests and wishes of the Somali people have inadvertently fuelled both the conflict and the humanitarian crisis. In February 2012, key governments and institutions from the region and the wider Islamic and Western world will meet in London to chart a way forward. They must seize this opportunity to refocus on the Somali people that past policies have failed, developing more coherent strategies to ensure that aid and protection reach those who need it, addressing the root causes of the protracted conflict and chronic vulnerability in the country, while developing coherent strategies to ensure humanitarian aid reaches those who need it.  2 1 Introduction  More than six months after famine was declared by the United Na-tions (UN), Somalia is still in the throes of its worst humanitarian cri-sis in decades. More than 325,000 children are suffering acute malnu-trition inside Somalia, and 31 per cent of the total population are esti-mated to be in crisis, 1  while hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. An earlier response to famine warnings would have saved many more lives; 2  nonetheless a large scale-up of the international response since  July 2011 and the endeavours of Somali communities and civil society have brought about significant improvements in malnutrition and mortality rates. 3  But the ability of those in direst need of access to life-saving assistance has in some areas deteriorated, threatening these gains and constraining the scale-up of vital livelihoods support that can build people’s resilience to future environmental shocks. A key factor was the expulsion of seventeen aid agencies from opposition-controlled regions of south and central Somalia in November 2011 and January 2012, and suspension of operations by two agencies in response to insecurity and to constraints imposed by local authorities. This has drastically reduced the response capacity in many areas. 4  In addition, although it is hard to predict how the situation will evolve, renewed fighting since the end of 2011 is preventing many civilians in parts of southern Somalia from seeking aid across shifting front lines, and causing others to flee. 5  The impact of the drought is receding, yet the outlook for the more than 2.3 million Somalis the UN estimates are still in need of assistance remains bleak. Responsibility for this situation lies first and foremost within Somalia, where factions on both sides of the long-running conflict stand ac-cused of impeding and diverting the flow of life-saving aid. 6  Yet the international community too must share some responsibility. While the conflict in Somalia remains a source of legitimate concerns for re-gional and international security, policies focused more on these con-cerns than on the short and long term needs of Somali people have not worked, inadvertently fuelling the conflict and exacerbating the hu-manitarian crisis. As some governments accept, it is time to move on to a new set of policies that allow Somalis’ immediate needs for life -saving aid to continue to be met, and provide space for their long-term aspirations for sustainable peace and development.  An opportunity for a new approach In February 2012, key governments from the region and the wider Is-lamic and Western world, together with institutions such as the UN, African Union (AU), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and League of Arab States (LAS), will meet in London to review their ap-proach to Somalia and chart a way forward. They must seize this op-portunity to develop more coherent policies to ensure that those who need it most receive the aid and protection they are entitled to, while  3 more effectively addressing the causes of the conflict in Somalia. In doing so, they should make renewed efforts to abide by their com-mitments that the provision of humanitarian aid should be consistent with the basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence. 7  No single conference can change everything. However, the London conference does provide an exceptional opportunity to stake out a new approach to the country by refocusing international humanitar-ian efforts, abandoning counter-productive policies and taking practi-cal steps towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict and cri-sis. Priorities for the future The London conference’s  success must be judged against the interna- tional community’s response to three issues, which between them will determine whether international efforts ultimately support the inter-ests of Somalis: ã   Actors from the region, the West and the Islamic world must use their influence with all relevant parties to ensure broader access to humanitarian assistance, while upholding humanitarian principles. This should take place alongside donor governments and aid organisations scaling up both humanitarian and longer-term resilience programming; ã   The conference must take action to ensure that political and security strategies do not undermine humanitarian assistance; and ã   Prioritising non-militarised and sustainable solutions to the conflict and humanitarian crisis, in particular through ensuring that a wide section of the Somali population is engaged in the process of developing these solutions. The next section of this paper offers recommendations from Oxfam’ s own experience on what is needed for a new agenda in Somalia. The following sections provide more detail on the operating environment and the effects of different policies on the humanitarian relief effort. The success of the London conference depends on everyone working together to set a new course for the future, one that will ultimately be guided and defined by the needs, interests and wishes of the Somali people.  4 2 A new agenda for Somalia We call on all parties involved to adopt the following recommenda-tions in order to build a new, coherent policy framework that is geared towards a long-term, inclusive political solution and puts the interests of the Somali people first. 1. Ensuring access, coordinated delivery of relief, and long-term development People are dying in Somalia because too many affected communities cannot access life-saving assistance. Putting this right is a global re-sponsibility. Influential actors such as Turkey and the Gulf States (in-cluding Qatar and Saudi Arabia), as well as institutions such as the LAS and the OIC, have the potential to promote dialogue with rele-vant parties in co-ordination with the UN and AU. All those attending the London conference should: ã   Work with influential local actors such as elders, women, religious leaders, and the Somali business community, as well as individuals within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and moderate elements of opposition groups, regional governments and inter-governmental bodies, to promote humanitarian access , while not claiming to represent humanitarian agencies, which must remain independent; ã   Build on the recent global Memorandum of Understanding between the OIC and UN to develop a shared approach to the core humanitarian challenges of access and co-ordination in Somalia; ã   Call for a high-level humanitarian conference, led by the UN, co-sponsored by the LAS, 8  OIC and AU, to further develop and implement strategies to maximise affected communities’ access to aid, building on humanitarian commitments made at the London conference side event and maintaining focus on humanitarian priorities until the conference led by Turkey, provisionally proposed for June 2012. The overall aim should be to enhance analysis and information sharing, map needs against coverage, manage risks, develop effective partnerships, and ensure the impartial and independent delivery of aid; ã   Support aid agencies to work within community structures, acknowledging the challenges and high costs of working in certain areas, helping them to raise women’s voices, an d develop disaster preparedness and response activities, as well as longer-term plans to enhance communities’ resilience to cope with future shocks;   ã   Prioritise resilience programming by: increasing the funding directed to livelihood recovery and resilience; incorporating disaster risk reduction into humanitarian programming; establishing multiannual funding mechanisms in line with the timeframes of livelihood development; and building in flexibility to allow responses to adapt rapidly to early warnings of a new food crisis. 9  
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