Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The United Nations ‘Somali Project’ leaves too many queries unanswered

Posted Monday, August 15 2011

For the past two decades, Somalia has been one of the international community’s most highly-funded, yet, as the current famine has revealed, “Project Somalia” has been unsuccessful as it has failed to improve food security in the war-torn country.

Since the 1990s, Somalia has received significant support from the donor community, notably the United States and the European Union. Most of the support is channelled primarily through United Nations agencies which maintain a large support structure based in Nairobi.

There is also parallel donor support for Somalia through the UN Consolidated Appeal Process and the Emergency Response Funds, managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

These funds are accessible to UN agencies and to international and local NGOs under what is known as the cluster framework. Clusters are normally chaired by a UN agency.

Given the lack of an effective national government in Somalia, UN agencies have positioned themselves as the providers of public goods and services in the country.

Very often, UN agencies embark on unilateral resource mobilisation initiatives on behalf of the Somali people. Mobilised resources are then used by the same agencies to implement their own projects and programmes.

In practice, this means that UN agencies raise funds for projects conceived, implemented and managed by themselves, usually without external monitoring and evaluation by a non-UN entity, and quite often without the active participation of government.

This is unethical and raises serious questions about whether UN agencies working in Somalia are accountable, not just to the donors, but to the people of Somalia.

The specific policy framework followed by most international donors for Somalia has been anchored on LRRD (Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development), which is adopted when a country is going through a crisis.

In the eyes of the international donors and UN agencies, Somalia represents a classic argument for an LRRD strategy. However, the ‘crisis’ has been on for almost 20 years, and by definition, it can no longer be considered one.

Meanwhile, humanitarian relief continues as in response to crisis, and with a limited view of moving beyond the crisis towards development.

In line with the above policy, the European Union has supported a number of rural development and food security initiatives since 1995 to the tune of 150 million euros.

Over 60 per cent of this amount has been used in South Somalia to fund projects in areas mainly in Lower Shabelle where irrigated agriculture has the most potential.

Lower Shabelle was the bread-basket of Somalia in the 1980s, and has remained so even after the civil war. EU support has gone towards improving data collection, rehabilitation of the irrigation infrastructure, seed testing and multiplication, pest management, capacity building of farmers, creation and/or strengthening of community water users associations, and rehabilitation of the roads.

For rural development and food security, the primary UN implementing agency is the Food and Agricultural Organisation, which receives substantial resources from the EU to implement projects in the agricultural areas of South Somalia.

Given the heavy investment in the Lower Shabelle region in the last 16 years, it is surprising that this is the very region that the UN has now declared a famine area. Did the EU-supported interventions in Lower Shabelle fail or has the UN — for whatever reason — made the Lower Shabelle appear more food insecure than it really is?

I suspect it is the latter, because even as recently as last year, the FAO reported that Lower Shabelle had experienced a bumper harvest.

Clearly, there is a mismatch between the resources made available to UN agencies over the last two decades and the dismal picture emerging from the most productive regions of South Somalia.

Currently, billions of dollars are being raised to help the starving of Somalia. Given the past record of UN relief and development projects, it is likely that the country will find itself in another “crisis” a year from now, and possibly in many subsequent years.

Mr Jama is a Somali agricultural economist based in Nairobi.(edboehe@yahoo.com)

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