The Current

Somalia 2011 famine was a U.S.-created war crime, says journalist Alex Perry

The 2011 Somalia famine is one of the great tragedies of this century. More than a quarter million people died, and journalist Alex Perry says many died needlessly, because the United States deliberately withheld aid from certain areas as a military tactic.
A newly arrived elderly Somali woman waits with other new arrivals to be registered as refugees in Doolow, south western Somalia. Doolow is the main exit point for Somalis from Bay, Bakool and Gedo regions fleeing to Ethiopia to escape war and a severe drought ravaging the country. (AFP/Getty Images/Tony Karumba)

To call the 2011 famine in southern Somalia a humanitarian emergency, is an understatement.  More than a quarter of a million people would die as a result of that crisis.

And at the time, direly needed food aid — even once it was in the country — was sometimes withheld from certain areas for political and military reasons.

Food aid was being curtailed from going into some areas under the control of al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group.

Journalist Alex Perry was there in southern Somalia in 2011. He investigated the story behind the starvation, and it's led him to some very troubling conclusions.

Alex Perry has written extensively for Time magazine and Newsweek. His new book is The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free, and he was in Guildford, England.

We did call the U.S. State Department hoping to get its response to these allegations. The reply it sent us is a Treasury Department document it released in August 2011, days after the U.S. government had relaxed its restrictions on organizations delivering food aid to al-Shabaab areas. 

As Alex Perry pointed out, the lifting of the aid ban came during the height of the famine, when it was too late to stop it. 

We've also reached out to the Somali government through its newly-opened embassy in the United States. We have not heard back.

An unidentified severely malnourished Somali refugee child rests inside a ward at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital at the Dagahale refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, July 28, 2011. (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya )

In 2013, three U.S. members of Congress — two Republicans and one Democrat — introduced a bill that would prevent famines such as the one in Somalia from occurring again. It was called the Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act.  It would have allowed for organizations such as Oxfam to bring humanitarian aid to people suffering in any area, including those held by terrorist groups.  That bill did not pass. 

Holger Wagner, Oxfam's regional director for the East, Central and the Horn of Africa, joined us to discuss Oxfam's response to the 2011 Somalia famine. He was in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Nov 2011: Internally displaced Somali children stand next to tents at an IDP camp in Dollow, central Somalia, for people fleeing drought that claimed millions of lives throughout central and south Somalia. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.