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"Famine in Somalia: What Can the World Do About It?"

A family from southern Somalia arrive in a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aug. 4, 2011. The UN says famine will probably spread to all of southern Somalia within a month and force tens of thousands more people to flee into the capital Mogadishu.
AP Photo

"Famine in Somalia: What Can the World Do About It?"

Op-Ed, The Atlantic

August 2, 2011

Author: Robert Paarlberg, Former Advisory Board Member, Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project; Former Research Fellow, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project/Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, 2007–2008

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Agricultural Innovation in Africa; Science, Technology, and Globalization; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


Nineteen years ago, 300,000 Somalis starved to death. What can the international community do keep it from happening again?


In Somalia today, there are ominous parallels with 1992: pervasive fighting among rival clans, far too little rain, and an inability among international peacekeeping forces to restore order or ensure that food aid reaches those in need. Nineteen years ago, the result was the death by starvation of 300,000 Somalis. Will it happen again?

It doesn't have to. But everything depends on how the world responds.

In some ways, the current situation is more complicated. One reason lies outside of Somalia altogether: the painful set of memories associated with our attempts to help in 1992, particularly in the United States. Then, the U.S. response was a forceful military intervention. President George H.W. Bush dispatched 25,000 American troops to Somalia, allowing food deliveries to resume, and preventing as many as 200,000 additional deaths. But in October 1993, famously, two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, 18 U.S. soldiers died, and the body of one dead American was dragged triumphantly through the streets. Public outrage forced President Clinton to terminate the mission. As a consequence, it's unlikely that U.S. policy makers will come close to taking similarly dramatic steps today....

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For Academic Citation:

Paarlberg, Robert. "Famine in Somalia: What Can the World Do About It?." The Atlantic, August 2, 2011.

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