"We have no food, no shelters. People are sick. Medicine is short," said Dr. Hawa Abdi, director of one of Somalia's largest refugee camps, on the Afgooye Road outside the capital of Mogadishu. It was early December 2007, during a spike in fighting in the city that forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee. Roughly 50,000 refugees settled in Abdi's camp, where just a handful of Somali and international staff struggle to provide care. The flight represented only the latest chapter in what U.N. officials have said is Africa's greatest crisis.
It has been 17 years since the violent overthrow of dictator Siad Barre and the first shots of the subsequent civil war, and 14 years since a U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping mission was cut short by the deaths of 18 U.S. troops and hundreds of Somalis in the brutal Battle of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia is plagued by military occupation, tribal in-fighting, criminality on a massive scale, political dysfunction, and persistent drought.