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Today’s humanitarian emergencies must learn from Somalia’s history

Trócaire has worked in Somalia since the famine of 1992 and it is one of the most difficult situations we have ever faced. We are still there today supporting food programmes, education and healthcare. Almost 25 years later people in Somalia are on the brink of another famine. Why? And what is the solution?

Trócaire, NUI Galway and the Irish Research Council brought humanitarian workers, academic experts and the Irish/Somali community together ask that question. Former Trócaire workers, Sally O’Neill and Rosemary Heenan, who developed and ran our programmes in Somalia, were at the conference to offer their personal insights.

Somalia has been neglected and abused at political and international level for decades. The conference highlighted what has been learned about Somalia over 25 years so that leaders and policy makers can stop re-creating past mistakes, find new solutions.

Watch Trócaire’s Sally O’Neill give important context for Somalia’s persistent problems:

“In Somalia the generations for the future that we are relying on are not getting an education. What kind of children for future leadership are we expecting when we cannot equip our children to get the quality education that they deserve?” – Nurah,  Trócaire volunteer in Cork

Nurah at Somalia Conference in Galway on June 22nd 2017

Nurah, Irish-Somali and Trócaire volunteer at conference on aid in Somalia in NUI Galway

“If I look at the famine in Somalia in 2011 and I look at the drought crisis now. How much has changed? The big thing that has really worked for Trócaire in Somalia is that we worked on long-term programmes. So we have that constant presence. It gives us a credibility with communities because they know we stay. We are the most dependable. One year funding for chronic situation is a band-aid solution. It’s so important to build local people’s resilience. So much of the approach in Somalia has all been short-term which creates today’s situation.” – Rosemary Heenan, former Trócaire East Africa Regional Manager

Rosemary Heenan in NUIG Galway

Rosemary Heenan in NUI Galway

“What sparked it for us in NUI Galway is looking at the refugee situation and the war in Syria. Last summer we asked ourselves what can we do about this? As historians what can we contribute?

So we decided to look at Somalia, and learn from the past to project into the future. It’s about thinking backwards to see what worked and what didn’t and take it forward into your own work.

Historians focus on context and the past. Humanitarian agencies and NGOs focus on what do we do now. What is needed for the future. So I think bringing that thinking together could bring new knowledge to these humanitarian crises around the world.” – Dr Kevin O’Sullivan, History School of Humanities, NUI Galway

Rosemary Heenan and Kevin O'Sullivan at Somalia conference in Galway

Rosemary Heenan (left) and Dr Kevin O’Sullivan (right) in NUI Galway

Ireland has a special connection with Somalia since former President Mary Robinson visited there in 1992 and highlighted the appalling suffering people were facing during the famine that year. 

Thanks to support from Ireland thousands of Somali families have received food, healthcare and education over the past 25 years. This support has saved countless lives and continues today.

Learn more about the current drought crisis in Somalia and wider East Africa.

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