Somalis children from southern Somalia, lineup to receive cooked food t in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Aug 15, 2011. The World Food Program said Saturday that it is expanding its food distribution efforts in famine-struck Somalia, where the U.N. estimates that only 20 percent of people needing aid are getting it.

Farah Abdi Warsameh, Associated Press


"The Somali community here in the Twin Cities, and the global Somali diaspora, is a critical element of an effective response to this drought and famine."

DANIEL WORDSWORTH, president, CEO, American Refugee Committee

• • •

"This is an urgent plea, and just the fact that we have this thriving Somali community in our back yard makes it really hit close to home."

HOLLY DONATO, national marketing director, Feed My Starving Children

Editorial: A Minnesota plea for relief in Somalia

  • August 15, 2011 - 8:43 PM

Humanitarian crises usually come in one of two forms, according to Daniel Wordsworth, president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee: "Rapid-onset" and "slow-onset."

Earthquakes and tsunamis are rapid-onset events, as seen in Haiti and Japan. The horrors in the Horn of Africa -- a drought and famine that the United Nations says threatens more than 11 million people -- is a slow-onset event. Its deadly impact has been compounded by the nihilistic violence many refugees face from the militant Islamist group Al-Shabab. There are also troubling reports of widespread theft of food aid, although the U.N. has said suspending assistance would result in even more misery for the ravaged land.

"It's like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion, and part of the terrible tragedy is that the passengers in the train are calling their relatives as it's going on," said Wordsworth.

Many of those calls are answered here in Minnesota. A generation of immigration has brought Minneapolis, in particular, one of the largest populations of Somalis outside Mogadishu, the country's capital. Now, hoping to help their homeland, many local Somalis have built bridges with several Minnesota-based organizations to lead relief efforts.

The American Refugee Committee has joined with local Somali residents to create Neighbors for Nations, a program aiming to not only aid the relief efforts but also build a more bonded community here at home.

The group has been able to have staff inside Somalia, which has proved exceedingly difficult for most other organizations due to ongoing, indiscriminate violence. Part of ARC's access may be the result of its partnership with another Minnesota-based Somali organization, the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa. The latter agency has had a presence in Somalia since 2006, according to executive director Mohamed Idris, who said ARC's expertise, experience and bigger organization make for a "good combination" with ARAHA's extensive ties within Somalia.

Minnesota-based Feed My Starving Children, a Christian hunger-relief organization, has also reached out to the local Somali community in a partnership with Sultan Aliyoow, a Minnesota-based Somali leader of nine Southern Somali tribes.

The organization has pledged to deliver 5 million meals to famine victims, with the first 1.4 million meals set to ship this month.

And the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture, which has helped heal victims worldwide, is working in the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya. There its staff is tending to those who were brutalized in Somalia, or to the many who are being targeted during their escape from that war-torn nation.

It's easy to feel helpless and hopeless watching news footage of the famine, or reading about the man-made disaster that's worsening the natural ones. But as these and other organizations demonstrate, lives can be saved despite all the obstacles.

That's why these Minnesota-based efforts to alleviate the misery in the Horn of Africa are worthy of our appreciation, support and financial donations.

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