Djibouti, one of the countries most severely affected by the current drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, today used the podium of the General Assembly to call on the world to not only provide immediate aid but also take the longer-term steps to prevent a recurrence.
“Our immediate needs are urgent and we are grateful to the friendly countries and international organizations who have participated in our efforts,” Djibouti’s President Ismaël Omar Guelleh said of the drought and famine that have severely afflicted at least 13.3 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and most particularly in Somalia, where tens of thousands of people have already died and more than 3.2 million others are on the brink of starvation.
“However, taking into account the endemic nature of drought in our region we must go beyond a reactive attitude and our efforts must from now on be focused on long-term prevention,” he added, noting that Djibouti has several projects under way, including water storage during flood times on the Awash River and the use of arable land.
“Faced with this terrible scourge, the region’s resilience is sorely tried and emergency measures cannot alone respond to the challenges we currently face.”
Turning to the political situation in Djibouti’s southern neighbour, Somalia, Mr. Guelleh cited recent improvements in the war-torn country following the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab Islamic militants from Mogadishu, the capital, and agreements by the transitional authorities to set up a functioning central government by next August in a country that has had none for the past two decades, during which it has been torn apart by factional conflicts.
He appealed to the international community to provide the transitional authorities with the necessary resources to reinforce its fragile capacities.
Turning to Djibouti’s northern neighbour, Eritrea, with which it fought in a border dispute in 2008, Mr. Guelleh said he had still not received any word about 19 Djiboutian prisoners of war despite Security Council resolutions and the efforts of regional organizations, but he committed himself to mediation as the sole path to a lasting peace.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki called for a new approach on Somalia. “Given that the central objective remains the reconstitution of Somalia and the rebuilding of effective institutions, it is imperative to seriously engage and bring into a Somali-owned political process all key stakeholders, including the governments in Somaliland and Puntland,” he said.
Other African heads of State also voiced their concern over the humanitarian situation in Somalia and its neighbours. “The efforts undertaken by the United Nations, the African Union, humanitarian organizations and institutions seeking to provide assistance and protection to populations in distress must continue,” Guinean President Alpha Condé told the Assembly.
He also stressed that his own country’s ambitious battle against under-development and poverty can only be fully won with the constant and effective support of the international community.
President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, which has itself suffered from recurrent droughts, noted that Somalis were suffering “the death throes of hunger.”
He also noted that his country faced the repatriation of over 210,000 of its citizens who have fled the fighting in neighbouring Libya and voiced concern that weapons looted from arms depots there could find their way into the hands of terrorists.
President Ali Bongo of Gabon called for an all-out effort to ensure that humanitarian aid reached all Somalis in their towns and villages.
He also highlighted his country’s commitment to sustainable development and the effort to confront climate change. “Gabon is decisively playing its part, including within the UN, on the issues of environmental protection and the fight against global warming. My country has committed itself to the modern conservation of our tropical forests and our biodiversity within our 13 national parks which cover 11 per cent of Gabon’s land.”