THE BLOG

Don't Let Conflict Be a Smoke Screen, Obscuring Humanitarian Needs

08/05/2013 09:55 BST | Updated 07/07/2013 10:12 BST

Audiences the world over are captivated by images of violence. Rolling news runs round-the-clock footage of troops and tanks fighting harsh battles in some of the world's most inhospitable places. This deserves our attention and thank goodness these pictures stir the public and their political leaders to tackle pressing security issues.

But the drama of conflict risks distracting us from equally important issues in the world's toughest countries, drowning out the voices of ordinary parents and children, who are focused on the basic challenge of daily survival.

As world leaders gather at the London Conference for Somalia, it is key to remember what happened just two years ago, when drought contributed to a famine causing 258,000 people to lose their lives. Although early warning systems had issued timely alerts of the looming drought and food crisis, the world reacted far too late. Insecurity in the worst affected areas meant that even when large scale relief began there were people who could not be reached. Those communities descended into famine.

To produce, keep food reserves or enough savings to buy bread when the harvest fails is only possible when communities are living in stable environments that also allow them to access markets freely. This is why the international community must ensure its assistance to Somalia helps put the country on a more secure footing, build the capacity to survive and even thrive in the face of shocks, so that massive international assistance will not be needed next time the rains fail. This should be done by ensuring long-term funding supports the government and communities in Somalia--particularly in the poorest parts of the country--to cope in years with little rain. Simple interventions like constructing boreholes and water pans - or man-made lakes - at strategic points so that animals do not die of thirst in times of drought. Also assistance to farmers so that they can keep a variety of animals and grow several crops, so that if one fails they have something else to fall back on.

World Vision is working, together with a number of humanitarian organisations, to help Somali communities build this kind of 'resilience'. Our approach is based on years of experience working with pastoralists and farmers in years of good and bad harvests, drawing upon practical solutions that build resilience during the good years, enabling families to cope during the harsh ones. These long-term interventions need to be complimented with accelerated efforts to bring peace and stability, so that more communities have a chance to prosper. Additionally, while addressing the long term needs, aid should be increased to meet the humanitarian needs of more than 2.5 million in need of aid in Somalia.

At the same time, the international community must be better prepared to react quickly if signs of trouble occur again. Recent history has shown that droughts occur more and more frequently, so we should expect Somalia to endure another significant drought in the next five years. When that happens, the international community must ensure its effective early warning systems are met by early action. And to respond early and effectively, the world must ensure political will and clearly defined plans.

Many studies, such as the UK Humanitarian Emergency Response Review, have noted that preventing emergencies is significantly cheaper than reacting to them. This is speaking purely in financial terms, but for a family in rural Somalia, it becomes a matter of life and death.

With the progress since last year's London Conference for Somalia, there is hope that a new chapter may begin in Somalia and that children born today may grow up in a safer place than their parents. It is incumbent upon the international community to learn from past experiences and that we support those children to live in a safe environment where they can not only survive but also learn, play and develop key skills. All of Somalia must be involved in the process to make sure that emergency needs are met whilst working to ensure that those emergencies are less severe because communities are better prepared.