Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured famine-hit Mogadishu on Friday on the first visit by a major leader in almost 20 years, calling the extreme drought ravaging Somalia “a problem for all humanity.”
Somalia has been the worst affected in the Horn of Africa by a prolonged drought and the UN has officially declared a famine in five regions of the country, including the capital Mogadishu.
“This is not only Turkey’s problem. This is a problem for all humanity. The tragedy going on here is a test for civilization and contemporary values,” Erdogan told reporters.
Erdogan, accompanied by his family and four ministers on the visit, called on the world to take action.
“The civilized world must successfully pass this test in order to prove that Western values are not made up of empty rhetoric,” he said.
The visit follows a meeting by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday in Istanbul which pledged US$350 million to assist the drought and famine-stricken Somalians.
However, Erdogan said the meeting did not meet expectations: “We had greater expectations at that point, but if you ask me if we fulfilled those expectations I cannot say yes.”
“I believe it is necessary to make investments here,” he added, promising that Turkey would fund infrastructure projects including restoring a hospital, building schools, drilling wells and rebuilding the road from Mogadishu airport to the city.
Somalian President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed commended the Turkish government’s efforts to help.
“We are very grateful to the Turkish government and people for the tireless assistance they are giving. We will never forget how they stood by our side as friends in this time of humanitarian disaster,” he said at the press conference.
Erdogan and his host visited a field hospital established by the Turkish government as well as a former hospital turned military base that Turkey wants to rehabilitate as a hospital.
Security was tightened throughout the day in Mogadishu, a city that has been battered by a bloody insurgency as al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels fight to unseat the Western-backed Somali government.
A recent influx of more than 100,000 people seeking help has altered Mogadishu’s landscape, with hundreds of small stick and plastic shelters springing up in open spaces.
The city’s hospitals have also been overstretched with emaciated adults and malnourished children, many of whom have succumbed to the harshness of the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades.
Relief agencies have boosted aid delivery to the affected population, but insecurity is hobbling a wider reach.
Aid agencies have said that the whole of southern Somalia could be hit by famine in the coming weeks.