Rushanara Ali MP (Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow) is the shadow minister for international development
Today the British government is hosting an international conference on Somalia, one hoping to create a “step-change”, a new direction to help build a more stable, prosperous and safe future in Somalia. This is a great aspiration – one I think we all agree with – and the very least people in Somalia deserve.
I’m pleased to see the renewed focus from the international community on the future of Somalia, but we must ensure that this focus delivers what the ordinary people of Somalia want and need. And, I would argue, what they want is stability and a chance at a better future.
I meet so many inspiring young people every day in my constituency.
While Bethnal Green and Bow struggles with some of the highest levels of child poverty in the country and high levels of youth unemployment, these young people have also had access to some of the best education in the world and support from their local community.
While the world is not an easy place for them, it is one that does still have possibilities and offer opportunities.
When I look at the situation of children in Somalia today, this is not a future they can aspire to.
Children are some of the most vulnerable in conflict situations and to the humanitarian crises. In Somalia, some young people have been targeted for recruitment to fight or support armed forces particularly by al-Shabaab. Schools and education have been a particular focus of attacks making it even harder to provide opportunities and a way out of poverty for these children.
Somalia today is a country with some of the worst human development indicators in the world. Average life expectancy is only 48 years and at least 1.4 million of the estimated population of 9.3 million have been displaced.
Of the 400,000 refugees in the Dadaab camp over 150,000 are children who have had little or no formal education. And these are the ones who have managed to escape the famine and the conflict.
These children, both those in the refugee camp and those who are living in through the conflict and famine, are the next generation in Somalia and if we hope to provide a better future for them, we have to ensure that we deliver real progress and development.
More broadly, ensuring that ordinary Somali people have access to clean water, healthcare and food is crucial in the short-term if we hope to save the 31 per cent of the population who are still living in crisis. But we must also start looking to the longer term solution.
This will mean addressing security and stability but it also means looking at the development situation. To be effective, peacebuilding, statebuilding and poverty alleviation need to be integrated. The real, long-term solution is jobs and social and economic development in Somalia.
To prevent future disasters and learn from what has happened, the international community must focus on building resilience within both the international systems and the country itself, and we must help Somalia to respond more effectively to disasters, famine and the humanitarian challenges that it is likely to continue to face.
As my colleague Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, said in the parliamentary debate on Somalia:
“Somalia’s crisis did not begin with the poor rains of 2010 or the collapse of the Somali dictatorship in 1991; the tragedy in Somalia has been the inevitability of the cycles of despair from which, to date, it is has been unable to escape.”
I hope the conference today can be a real first step in putting an end to this cycle.
• Somali pirates need jobs or jail, not ransom or death – Richard Darlington, November 1st 2011
• Abu Salim shows we must do more to protect doctors in conflicts – Rushanara Ali MP, September 8th 2011
• East Africa famine: We need funds now, and to deal with underlying problems – Katherine Nightingale, July 22nd 2011
• Disasters Emergency Committee needs to start coordinating Africa crisis response – Lord Avebury, July 7th 2011
• Other nations need to follow Britain’s lead to avert disaster in Africa – David Taylor, July 6th 2011