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CHILDREN: UNICEF Warns of Impending Danger in Somalia

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 1999 (IPS) - The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned of impending danger to some 60,000 malnourished children in Somalia – the only Third World nation that has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The New York-based UN agency says there is a major food crisis unfolding in central and southern Somalia where an estimated one million people are now at risk. They include 300,000 persons – about a fifth of them children under the age of five – who are in grave danger.

The United States and Somalia are the only two countries which have not ratified a much-heralded UN convention that obliges the State to protect the rights and well-being of children.

The U.S. has held back ratification for political reasons while there is no legitimate government in Mogadishu.

“Malnutrition among children below five years of age is a chronic problem in central and southern Somalia, most notably among the internally displaced persons and other socio- economically disadvantaged groups,” UNICEF said Tuesday.

The agency said there were “alarming reports of deteriorating food security conditions” from various regions of Somalia since September. Several poor harvest seasons, major flooding and prolonged insecurity are the primary causes of the precarious situation in Somalia, UNICEF noted.

Traditional coping mechanisms have been exhausted in the affected areas. After flood damage, granaries were never re- stocked, UNICEF said, adding that the next harvest, due later this month, will be unsatisfactory.

As more and more people are displaced, prices of most products are going up. One important cause of food shortage in Somalia is a lack of purchasing power, particularly among internally displaced persons who consequently become malnourished.

Besides food aid, UNICEF is involved in cholera prevention activities, in malaria control and prevention, measles control, and the treatment of respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Currently, the only international bodies in Somalia are humanitarian and relief agencies. The UN Security Council, for all intents and purposes, has abandoned the country because of its seemingly unresolvable civil war and intense power struggle.

In the early 1990s, the civil strife was compounded by a drought and famine which eventually resulted in the deaths of more than 350,000 Somalis.

The United Nations, which arrived in Somalia in May 1992 amid factional fighting by members of the United Somali Congress (USC), suffered some of its heaviest casualties there.

A total of 136 U.N. peacekeeepers died in Somalia, 99 of them in hostile action, while 423 were wounded. These casualties excluded 17 U.S. servicemen killed in Mogadishu while serving as part of a humanitarian relief force which was withdrawn from Somalia in March 1994.

Since Somalia did not have a legitimate government, the Security Council invoked Chaper VII of the UN Charter giving it the right to intervene without the consent of the country concerned.

At a press conference in Geneva Tuesday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan singled out Somalia as one of the African countries where the United Nations learnt a bitter – but sad – lesson.

“I think, yes, we did have a tragedy in Somalia and that governments have pulled out,” he said.

“But what is the lesson from Somalia?” he asked, “Is the lesson that we do not engage, that we do not put troops in harm’s way any more? Or should the lesson have been: ‘what did we do wrong’? Or should we avoid risking lives of soldiers and others and then move on to the next operation?”

In mid-1996, the United Nations offered to return to Somalia in an effort to bring about national reconciliation among its political factions. The offer followed the death of Somali faction leader Mohamed Farah Aideed, one of the UN’s bitterest political enemies who openly despised the world body for intervening in his country.

Aideed’s son, Hussein Mohamed Aideed, a 31-year-old former U.S. Marine reservist, was named to replace his father.

The discussions involved two of Aideed’s rivals, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Osman Hassan Ato, both of whom called for a cease-fire following his death.

But a UN Special Representative assigned to break the deadlock returned empty-handed.

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