The devastating famine in the Horn of Africa is still affecting over 12 million people in a number of countries, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. While numerous UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups are working to provide assistance in famine affected areas, they have not had as productive results in Somalia as they have had elsewhere in the Horn, mainly because of the precarious security situation in a number of areas that are controlled by non-state armed groups in Central and South Somalia.
UN Agencies and humanitarian organizations are doing a phenomenal job of assisting those people in areas where they have access, mainly in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. However, in Somalia, the situation has been and continues to be dire, with over 3 million people in the south affected in areas that are either less accessible or inaccessible by UN organizations. Despite the withdrawal of Al-Shabab from some areas of Mogadishu, the famine has spread throughout southern Somalia into areas that are still firmly controlled by Al-Shabab, which is believed to be home to 250,000 people at risk of starvation. The situation has not improved, and most recently, Al-Shabab has banned the work of 16 nongovernmental organizations and UN Agencies in Somalia who were providing life saving assistance. This coupled with the increase in violence in Mogadishu and other areas has begun to impede the flow of aid from the remaining groups on the ground. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has managed to maintain its relationships with both the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and local stake-holders in order to continue to provide life saving assistance to those in the affected areas.
Under the umbrella of the OIC, many Muslim NGOs have been and continue to provide assistance in Somalia, complementing the efforts of the international community. As the OIC and its partners have not been affected by the recent ban of aid organizations and will continue to diligently provide humanitarian assistance, a big gap has been created and the international community needs to continue its efforts in support of the Somali people despite the obstacles and challenges facing humanitarian action in the country.
The dire humanitarian situation in Somalia has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of humanitarian assistance from many OIC member states, though viewed by the international community as “a non-traditional constituency”; and, increasingly for many OIC member countries, after decades of inaction and unresponsiveness; there has been an unmatched public mobilization of resources to provide assistance. At least, 1,458,049 received food assistance in the month of November in highly food insecure areas.
After sending two fact-finding missions to Somalia in January and February 2011, the OIC warned of the impending famine and decided, as early as March 2011, establish a Humanitarian Coordination Office (HCO) in Mogadishu to address the ongoing humanitarian concerns in Somalia, and to coordinate with local NGO partners to address growing concerns in the region and to provide relief to the Somali people.
Last May, the OIC Secretary General, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu made a pressing appeal to the international community regarding the famine that was beginning in Somalia. He urged Member States and the international community to provide urgent assistance to the famine-stricken people of Somalia.
Near the end of June, the OIC Secretary General submitted a report to the OIC Council of Foreign Minister’s meeting calling for the establishment of a Trust Fund for Somalia, and this was established through a ministerial resolution.
Through July, the OIC coordinated the launching of emergency pilot relief projects meant to provide food for 300 families per month, and the Secretary General of the OIC declared four southern regions of Somalia (Bay, Bakool, Juba and Lower Shabelle) famine areas. The OIC has been working on a three-pronged plan to cope with the situation on the ground in Somalia, first by mobilizing civil society, mobilizing OIC Member States and mobilizing the international community.
At the end of July at an emergency meeting on Somalia held in Istanbul upon the invitation of the Turkish Government, the OIC Secretary General, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu announced the establishment of the OIC Alliance of Relief, an umbrella organization of 32 NGOs, largely from across the Muslim world, to ensure that there is enhanced coordination, not duplication of efforts. The coalition has had success, by facilitating access to all 25 refugee camps around Mogadishu, and providing all provisions for the camps (including drinking water, shelter, food and nutrition programs for children); renovating health facilities in several different districts of Mogadishu, and providing doctors and nurses to Banadir Hospital, the largest hospital in Mogadishu.
A number of non-governmental organizations have stepped up with the assistance of the OIC to coordinate different aspects of relief. These organizations include the Turkish Red Crescent Society, which coordinates efforts in the management of refugee camps; The Federation of Arab Doctors, which coordinates health services including vaccinations and treatment for cholera and measles; the Qatar Red Crescent, which works closely with a number of foundations to ensure adequate distribution of food and emergency assistance; Islamic Relief-UK which coordinates information sharing and the media and the Humanitarian Affairs department of the OIC which coordinates the mobilization of all resources. These organizations work with over 30 local non-governmental organizations, governments and civil society organizations to manage refugee camps, provide medical services, distribute clean water, supply food stuffs and to plan for long term relief efforts.
The OIC has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the World Food Programme, to distribute food to 40,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Afgooye corridor near Mogadishu. This will be in addition to the 60,000 people already receiving assistance from the OIC in that area. More recently, Under-Secretary-General, Madame Valerie Amos visited the OIC Headquarters and signed an MoU with the OIC to better coordinate activities between the OIC and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In order to more effectively coordinate the delivery of aid, the OIC is also in the process of opening a Liaison Office in Nairobi, to effectively work with other international organizations, including UN agencies working in the Horn.
This joint coordination between the OIC, the United Nations and Muslim NGOs somehow relies upon the credibility and access the OIC enjoys locally in Somalia. In this regard, Professor Ihsanoglu has invited all international partners and organizations to coordinate their activities through the OIC Alliance for Relief campaign.
In order to supplement the on the ground efforts, the OIC has joined the global appeal for funding for Somalia by mobilizing pledges of $350 million made by Member States at an emergency meeting held August 17. The OIC hopes to see this increased to $500 million to assist with the global appeal for Somalia that is currently facing a $1 billion dollar shortfall. A number of OIC Member States have contributed with in-kind donations as well as cash pledges. For example, Turkey, Kuwait, UAE and Sudan have provided airlifts of food and medical supplies and other Member States have provided expert humanitarian aid workers to build refugee camps and to distribute and provide services.
While the OIC is proud of its accomplishments in Somalia to date, the organization understands that what has been done is still far from its operational and its leadership potential. The situation in Somalia is getting worse as the drought continues to wreak havoc on the entire Horn of Africa and in particular Somalia and reinforcements will continue to be needed to assist the Somali people throughout the winter, where it is expected that rainfall will be considerably less than in previous years. Therefore, the OIC will have to identify and overcome its internal challenges within its institutional framework to ensure the availability of resources. Additionally, the OIC will have to overcome external challenges by assigning more responsibility to the Member States to ensure that adequate resources and financing of projects are available. These are among the challenges the OIC must face and conquer before it can live up to the enormous expectations from the Muslim world and the West.
If there is any hope for a political settlement and reconciliation in Somalia, the OIC should certainly continue to be at the forefront of ensuring a lasting and comprehensive peace. The OIC was an instrumental player in bringing President Sheikh Sharif, then leader of the Somali opposition based in Asmara, to the negotiating table in Djibouti. He eventually emerged as President of the Transitional Federal Government. In recognition of its contributions and efforts the OIC was included as one of the few signatories as witness to the Djibouti Agreement. As a key partner of Somalia, the OIC has continued within its ability to accompany the peace process through its active participation in all international fora on the Somali question including the International Contact Group on Somalia. The OIC was instrumental in 2008 when the Djibouti Agreement currently under implementation was brokered.
While the OIC has taken great strides in spite of the challenges it has faced in establishing a humanitarian affairs department, the OIC will need to continue progressing in Somalia if it wants to be taken seriously as a humanitarian organization in the future. It continues to slowly but surely gain credibility, mobilize funds, and establish key international and local relationships with stakeholders and organizations to ensure that those people who are located in the areas of Somalia under the control of non-state armed groups are still able to receive food, supplies and clean water in order to survive.
Even though the OIC may be relatively unfamiliar in the West, it has been around for over 40 years. Its reach is vast, spanning 5 continents and 57 Member States. Its new vision upholds the importance of socio-economic development, human rights and humanitarian assistance in promoting peace and security. The current engagement in Somalia is a good example of the OIC’s commitment to these new ideals and is serving as a litmus test for the OIC’s capacity to handle humanitarian situations.
In recent years, despite all institutional restraints, and reluctance of some Member States, the OIC General Secretariat has been striving to become an entity with an increased operational capacity in several areas, including, preventive diplomacy, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. By increasing the good-offices role of the Secretary General and forging proactive engagement with the UN General Secretariat, other regional organizations and civil society, the OIC can become a stronger, more active organization. The OIC General Secretariat's recent humanitarian assistance engagements in Somalia and elsewhere are remarkable as, for the first time, the OIC has relied upon the operational capacity of NGOs to carry out assistance.