Tommy Tiernan in Somalia: We can do better – and we have to

At noon I left Luuq, a town in the Gedo region of southern Somalia. Twenty-four hours later I was on the M50 in Dublin. I’m not sure how many thousands of kilometers I’ve traveled, but I know how long it took me. A day. Everything I’ve seen is just a day away.

was in a hospital and I saw a woman come in and put her baby on a bed. A doctor came by and we were asked to leave. Later, the news came through that the child had died. From hunger.

We were taken to an area outside the city where tens of thousands of people were camped. Their crops had failed and their animals had died, so they walked for days to get here. A man I spoke to had one of his children buried on the side of the road while driving because he knew more of his children would die if they stopped to grieve properly. Digging a hole in the dirt with your bare hands. His family is watching. The child wrapped in a cloth. Two of his other young children on the verge of severe malnutrition. His wife cannot breastfeed her because her milk has dried up.

An old man said to me, “It’s never been this bad. I’m just thinking about the past.” I asked him if he blamed anyone and he said, ‘No, it’s God’s will and only God can save us.’”

I passed the entrance of a tent and a baby lying on the ground looked like the one I had seen in the hospital earlier that day. He lay in the shadows with his mother, on the brink of death. A victim of logistics.

Hundreds of thousands of children could die before the end of the year, all falling victim to the logistics. There is food, there just isn’t the global will to bring it to them. Governments have other priorities.


Tommy Tiernan with Ruth Mwangi, Director of Resilience Program at Trócaire, in Luuq, Gedo Region, Somalia. Image by Miriam Donohoe

The Government of Ireland has broken its promises for years. In 1974, when Garret FitzGerald was Secretary of State, the government pledged to allocate 0.7 percent of our gross national income to foreign aid. Successive governments have all made the same commitment, but here we are 48 years later and still no delivery. Germany does it, Sweden does it. Norway and Denmark do it – 0.7 pcs.

That would do. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It seems such a small amount, but the work that money can do is colossal. It can stop unnecessary suffering and death.

It’s also a question of justice. Justice, because Africa is heating up twice as much as any other continent. Heating up from the CO2 emissions slowly suffocating the world.

Africa produces such a small percentage of it, but it gets the worst after-effects. It has not rained in Somalia for four seasons. First the harvest failed, then the animals died and now the children.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The future is not set in stone. We are bright, creative people. The money is there, but the political will is lacking at the moment. The finance minister can certainly decide that we have given enough that we can no longer afford it.

Maybe if we take the 0.7 percent off the top at the beginning, Paschal, we could find a way to deal with the 99.3 percent that’s left.

Any system that tolerates child starvation is a crime against humanity

The people of Ireland can be proud of the work Trocaire is doing in Somalia. Proud that Trócaire stayed after the civil war in 1993, when all other humanitarian organizations left Somalia. Stayed and founded hospitals, stayed and founded schools. Remained so much that people in western Somalia refer to Trócaire as “our mother”. Now let the Government of Ireland do something of which we too can be proud.

There will in all likelihood be more famines. And how should we meet them? Well, there are structural weaknesses in the global food supply system. Weaknesses that were highlighted after the 2007-08 food price crisis but these have not been addressed and we will continue to sleepwalk into disaster after disaster until they are.

The system is broken. Any system that tolerates child starvation is a crime against humanity.


Tommy Tiernan meets Abshro Adan Mohammad and Faduma Adan Abdi at the Trocaire Health Center in Dullow, Gedo Region, Somalia. Image by Miriam Donohoe

Did you know commodity speculation with food is a thing? It means buying up and holding back global food reserves in the hope that their value will increase over time. It means letting people die while increasing the odds of your winnings. Happens. The stock market has no conscience.

And also, as an act of love and responsibility, let us impose a 0.7 per cent tax on all multinational companies operating in Ireland.

These big companies may be headquartered here and the people who work for them in this part of the world may pull off high wages, but somewhere along the line in most of them there are a lot of people working long and unfriendly hours for f** all.

The profits of these companies depend heavily on this cheap labor. Our consumerist way of life depends heavily on this cheap labor, but consumerism must now come of age and take responsibility for the consequences of its actions.

The tax revenue from this new levy should also be used for development aid abroad.

The people of Somalia are asking for help. I met a man sitting in front of a makeshift latrine in the camp. We began to talk. He had just arrived with his wife and family after days of walking through the heat on an empty stomach

“I came from another region with my children and my wife because we had nothing to eat. I left a small farm. I had no cattle, only grain. The profits from this farm had to be shared by all my relatives, but that wasn’t enough… Two or three years ago I lost a couple of children. One died of starvation and another died of illness and health problems.”

I asked him if he had ever thought growing up that his life would be like this?

“No,” he said. “I’m facing reality and I’m willing to be a father and provide for my family while I can get help. I will go anywhere, no matter the distance, to get help. I will move again if I have to. Only God knows what the future knows. Only he knows the reason why we had to move away. Maybe it’ll rain again and life will get better. We live off what others give us. That’s how we live.”

“What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” is a quote from the New Testament. It is contained in a story of God addressing the world at the end of time. He tells those who helped to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and those who welcomed the stranger. And he told those who didn’t.

We have to make a decision.

The Irish Emergency Alliance, which includes Trocaire, has launched an appeal for the Horn of Africa. Donations to this urgent appeal can be made via or by calling 1800.939.979 Tommy Tiernan in Somalia: We can do better – and we have to

Fry Electronics Team

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