Aid workers battling the logistics of obtaining and delivering massive quantities of medicines, food and water to 3.7 million Somalians on the verge of dying from an active famine and the worst drought in more than half a century must also contend with human blockades.
The appropriately named Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, has decreed that the U.N.'s declaration of famine in southern Somalia is "pure propaganda." Although al-Shabab, which has been linked to al-Qaeda, had previously indicated it would allow relief convoys to travel through and serve regions it controls, Sheik Rage announced that the policy of basic humanitarian tolerance has been reversed.
"We are appealing to all parties for immediate access to save lives. We want to go in there. We're ready to move. We think a huge operation is needed. We've got all options ready to go, land routes, air lift, whatever it takes," said spokesman David Orr.
Al-Shabab has historically demanded cash payments and other concessions to provide safe passage to aid providers, who are branded as potential spies and proselytizers for an un-Islamic way of life. Over the past few years, 14 World Food Program workers have died in the area.
Since 2008, United States aid to Somalia has declined by 88 percent in compliance with Treasury Department rules against sending American aid money to regions where it might "materially benefit" terrorists—such as al-Shabab.
American policy may seem cold, but not any more chilling than al-Shabab using the lives of 800,000 Somali children (the number the U.N. says are poised to die without immediate assistance) as bargaining chips for increased cash payments and concessions.