Listless, emaciated children wait for water to arrive by donkey. Their mothers rest nearby, too exhausted to speak. Tiny graves are chiseled out of bone-dry earth to hold the famine’s youngest victims. That is what Mary Robinson, then-president of Ireland, found when she visited Somalia 19 years ago. Images of suffering haunted her for years: “I never got Somalia out of my system,” she said.
Now, the Horn of Africa is again in the grip of famine. When Robinson returned to Somalia earlier this year, “Everything was even worse” than in 1992. At the National Press Club on Monday, October 17, Robinson issued an eloquent plea to address the crisis in Somalia, which has already claimed 40,000 lives. “How can we allow that to happen in the 21st century?” she asked. “It’s a black mark for all of us.” The event was part of a series of discussions organized by the Institute’s Aspen Global Health and Development program, titled “7 Billion: Conversations that Matter.”
Women, Reproductive Health, and Fertility.
It is not enough to respond to the current crisis, Robinson said. To prevent a recurrence, we must also address long-term health and development challenges. That means bolstering governance and security. And, perhaps most important, it means unleashing the power of women. Women are critical to the future of Somalia, said fellow speaker Walid Abdelkarim, principal officer and team leader for Somalia at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. “The most important element is the ability of the household to grow,” he said, “and that’s about the woman who nourishes and runs the household.”