Does chasing down terrorists in Somalia help or hurt famine relief effort?

Refugees in East Africa

The deadly famine in East Africa continues and now conflict involving the Islamist extremists known as al-Shabab could make a terrible situation much worse.

Aid workers are getting kidnapped, the Kenyan military invaded Somalia to search for the extremists (who deny the kidnappings), which then prompted a claimed member of al-Shabab to explode grenades in Nairobi — prompting Somalia’s president to ask Kenya to back off.

This, in turn, caused officials in the U.S. and Europe to urge Somalia to allow Kenya in to pursue al-Shabab.

Meanwhile, as Voice of America reports, those most in need are figuratively caught in the crossfire as the military campaign undermines the relief efforts.

The United Nations says recent military activity along the Kenya-Somalia border is restricting famine relief efforts and preventing Somalis from fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya. The U.N. Refugee Agency said Wednesday that only 100 Somali refugees entered Kenya last week, down from 3,400 in the previous week.

To combat the tendency for the American public, and the media, to forget about this ongoing catastrophe, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) has launched a PR campaign together with the Ad Council called “We are the relief.” I think they could have come up with a better theme, but at least they’re trying. Here’s some of what USAID is putting out:

Comparative catastrophes


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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.