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Somalia on verge of 'total economic collapse,' UN humanitarian official warns

Somalia on verge of 'total economic collapse,' UN humanitarian official warns

Warning that Somalia was on the verge of a total economic collapse unparalleled in modern history, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the country today emphasized that there were "obvious and doable" solutions to the causes of the enduring crisis.

Speaking at a UN press briefing in New York, Randolph Kent said that at a time when the world was seeking stability in the country, "we now find Somalia on the precipice of potential and total economic collapse." The humanitarian coordinator added that he was aware of the international community's additional concern about the consequences of "radicalism" and the "radicalization" of particular social situations.

Yet Somalia had been emerging out of the social upheaval, with a "trickle of an economic system" and a political process that was working, Mr. Kent said. Calling Somalia "a paradox," the humanitarian coordinator said that over the past couple of years, he had seen a pattern of stability emerging in a slow and painful way. Various parties were coming together and, slowly, peace was spreading through the country.

There also had been significant development of an economy that, although fragile, was creating job opportunities and putting Somalia at the forefront of many fascinating innovations, Mr. Kent said. Other kinds of industries were also developing, from bottling plants to boat manufacturing.

Last week the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a consolidated appeal for Somalia for $83 million to assist 800,000 vulnerable people throughout the country survive the drought, Mr. Kent said. Besides the drought, there had also been the continuation of the Rift Valley fever ban by the Persian Gulf States, which had forbidden Somalia to export its livestock, the country's lifeline to survival. There was also the situation of hyperinflation: last year, $1 was worth 8,000 Somali shillings; today that dollar was worth 25,000 shillings.

For each of those problems, there were solutions, Mr. Kent stressed, noting that $83 million to save 800,000 people was not an awful lot of money. At the same time, convincing the Persian Gulf States to rescind their ban was an objective worth pursuing, since there was the technical know-how for dealing with Rift Valley fever. Meanwhile the issue of remittances - the essential link between Somalis outside and inside the country - could also be readily resolved by trying to increase, for relatively little money, the capacity of the Somali banking system to better monitor those transaction flows.