Somalia: leaders risk failing poor
Days after reports that Britain has paid compensation to wrongly detained child asylum seekers from countries including Somalia, the UK will host efforts for positive change in what its Foreign Secretary dubs the world’s most failed state.
This mixed approach symbolises the challenge that will face our government as William Hague, alongside Prime Minister David Cameron in the chair, welcomes high-level delegates to a London conference today. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join officials from 50 countries and international organisations in a bid to succeed, after 14 previous abortive efforts, to bring stability in Somalia.
The heartbreaking decision by parents to send young loved ones thousands of miles to a strange land reflects absolute despair over their children’s future. But Hague’s statement highlighting the need for the conference to tackle terror networks – made earlier this month during the first visit to the strife-torn African nation by a British Foreign Secretary for 20 years – increases fears that other vital social issues will lose out. The minister dubbed the country “the new breeding ground of terrorism which presents a direct threat to Britain”. Yet the conference risks a 15th failure if counter-terrorism and military challenges dominate the discussions.
In one of the world’s most deprived states, four in ten of 9.5 million Somali people struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. Almost one in three – over two million – need emergency food support. Conflict has displaced 1.4 million people, with hundreds of thousands in refugee camps.
Somalia’s health statistics also rank among the worst around the globe. More than one in five children die before their fifth birthday. Malaria and tuberculosis feature among its main lethal diseases. One in ten women dies in childbirth. And even if mothers and children escape such early deaths, life expectancy is only around fifty years. Education, a potential route from poverty, is denied a majority of the estimated 2.3 million school-age children – 1.8 million do not attend lessons. And only 55 girls are enrolled for every 100 boys.
Every year 69,000 Somali children and 4,800 mothers die because of the weak health system – far higher than the 8,428 people who died as a result of the 2004-2007 conflict. In less than three years, Health Poverty Action has provided over half of the internally displaced women in the self-declared independent state of Somaliland who are expected to become pregnant every year with a birth attended by a skilled health worker in a health centre or, in the case of pregnancy- or birth-related complications, referred them to hospital. The programme has targeted 51,750 of the most marginalised women of childbearing age in camps for internally displaced people.
And in a country scarred by hostilities, where the overwhelming majority of women suffer female genital cutting (FGC), our charity works to sensitise communities to all issues of violence against women. This involves key community members, such as religious leaders, community welfare committees and teachers, with training for them to take action if incidents occur. Since Health Poverty Action launched a project in Somaliland, the organisation has seen a growth in timely referrals to the police and a hospital. It also uses radio to address cultural taboos, including FGC, in both accessible and remote communities.
David Cameron deserves praise for hosting this conference. The danger remains, though, that the talks will concentrate on security from terror at the expense of human security through decent incomes, food and healthcare. The world cannot become a safer place unless leaders combat the inequalities which fuel violence.
Indeed, this weekend at G20 finance ministers’ talks in Mexico City, his own chancellor, George Osborne, can match France’s move in the right direction by pledging to introduce a Robin Hood tax on bank transactions. A minute tax on transactions could generate hundreds of billions of pounds to tackle global poverty, climate change and social needs in Britain. And amid growing health demands around the world – not least in Somalia and the UK – this tax could help meet budgetary divides. There is an estimated $488 billion gap in resources for global health in the run-up to the 2015 deadline for the UN millennium development goals.