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DJIBOUTI: Drought Forcing People Into Towns, Says President Guelleh
DJIBOUTIVILLE, Feb 13, 2006 – Djibouti is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of consecutive years of drought. In an interview with IRIN on 9 February, President Ismail Omar Guelleh talked about his government's plans to contain the situation. Below are excerpts.
QUESTION: Is the current drought in the region more serious than previous ones?
ANSWER: It is not, but our problem is we get a lot less rain than the rest of the countries, so this makes it more problematic. Many people have already lost their livestock and moved to towns. It is the rest who are now under threat and who we are trying to save.
These are recurring droughts. We need to take that into account and plan accordingly and do what we can for ourselves instead of blaming God every time. For example, when it rains, we may get 5 million to 10 million cubic meters of water. Most of that will end up in the sea. A few days later we experience a shortage of water. We could save a lot by harvesting water.
We therefore decided to take a number of steps. In this country, peoples' lives depend largely on livestock. When they start dying, people are in trouble. We have put in place a plan to irrigate some of the land around water wells in order to produce animal feed. It could be one hectare, two, three, four or even 10. Whatever is produced will be stored and given out during the dry season.
We also need to harvest water and build water catchments. This, in my opinion, will alleviate some of the problems we face.
We are also planning to plant one million palm trees to produce dates for human consumption. Our soil is conducive to this type of tree. The Saudi government has agreed to provide 20,000 seedlings. We have also set up a research facility to experiment in producing seedlings that will mature in two years and produce fruit.
Q: How many people are affected by the current drought, and which areas are most affected?
A: Our estimates are that 150,000 people [out of a population of 700,000] are seriously affected by the drought. Almost all regions are affected, but the hardest hit areas are the coastal regions, the north and the northwest.
Q: What has been the international community’s response to the drought in the region?
A: In terms of response from the international community, I have been informed that Japan has pledged the equivalent of US $700,000, and that is it. We are used to this sort of thing. When you make an appeal it takes between 6 months and 8 months before any response.
We also suffer, I believe, from a certain amount of neglect. Recently, the European Union announced that it was donating € 5 [US $6 million] to the countries affected by the drought. They named Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. We were not even mentioned. It is like we are the forgotten country. Maybe it has something to do with our small size.
So instead of waiting until people start dying, we decided to mobilize our own people, from school children to businessmen. Every family should give what it can, even if it is one kilo, or half a kilo, to try and help their compatriots. This campaign has also taught our people that they also can help each other. It created solidarity. This has been very, very successful. Now we are trying to dispatch what has been collected to the affected areas with the help of our armed forces.
Q: Does the increased migration to Djibouti from other countries in the region give you more concern about security?
A: Since our independence we [have] had a flood of people coming, not only to Djibouti but to transit through here. Some came to work, others [when there was no phone system in Somalia] to make an international call to family and relatives in the diaspora or for medical reasons.
Now, the newest phenomenon is the migration by boat to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Last week our police detained more that 150 people in the north of the country. This latest group was from Ethiopia.
Q: Does this new phenomenon worry you in terms of security, not just in your country but in the sub-region as a whole?
A: No, not really. We are used to this by now. These people are economic migrants and do not pose any serious security problem. Sometimes they may engage in minor criminal activity, but nothing serious that would affect the overall security of this country or the region.
Q: Do you think then that the threat of terrorism from the Horn of Africa is exaggerated?
A: At the beginning, it was not - due to the history of our region from 1993. Look at what happened in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania [United States embassy bombings]. Look at what happened in 2000 and 2002 in Yemen. All these are part of the big threat of terrorism in our region. The motivation of the American presence here, at that time, was to fight that threat. They have succeeded in their mission. Except for minor incidents of piracy in the Indian Ocean, we have had no serious terrorist incident in this area.
Q: Has the American presence been helpful to the Djibouti economy?
A: Yes, it has been very helpful. First, a very important part of our people has found work there. Then, we have companies from countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, which are working with the Americans, who have also hired local people and are spending money in our country. These companies have also established [themselves] in our free zone. All this has had a positive impact on our economy.
Q: Coming back to the sub-region, how are Djibouti's relations with its neighbors, specifically with the new Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia?
A: We are here to help any government chosen by the Somali people. We support the TFG as we supported the TNG [Transitional National Government] before it. Our aim is to see Somalia re-establish itself for the sake of the Somali people, who have been suffering for the last 15 years.
With regard to our other neighbors, we have very good relations. As the headquarters of IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Development] we have, as we must, access to all of them.
Q: Since the TFG relocated to Somalia, it seems to be having the same problems the TNG had with faction leaders and establishing its authority throughout the country. What do you think is the problem, and do you foresee a solution?
A: The main problem is the lack of support from the international community. We cannot ask a drowning person to swim and save himself without giving a lifeline. That is what we are telling the Somalis, and it is not fair. We have seen what the United Nations and the international community is doing in Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo. In Congo, the UN is spending over $200 million per year. In Ethiopia-Eritrea similar amounts are being spent. Why is it so difficult for the international community to assist the Somali government to disarm and demobilize the various militias and put pressure on the warlords?
No one is doing anything. That is the main reason why any government - call it TFG, TNG, or whatever - will not succeed. It is a question of a lack of commitment from the international community.