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Why is piracy rampant around Somalia?
By Swaty Prakash

Somalia's pirates have unleashed a spate of attacks and abductions in the last few years and the world is beginning to wake up to the menace. However, the root of the problem goes much deeper.

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In the horn of Africa lies politically dysfunctional country Somalia which plunged into never-ending civil war following ouster of Siad Barre regime in 1991. The country, often associated with acute hunger, utter poverty, and notorious warlords, has hogged headlines for turning the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden into the world's most dangerous seas.

Gone are the days when pirates and bandits existed only in stories and cinemas, the menace of pirates have resurfaced on the waters off Somalia.          
For the past few years spurt in attacks and abduction carried out by pirates across the Somali coast has raised an alarm in the international arena. The tentacles of Somali pirates have begun to be felt not only on human lives and livelihoods but also on the major commercial and developmental interests of several countries.   

According to the ICC’s International Maritime Bureau’s 2009 report, there were more than 217 reported incidents in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, almost double the number (110)  seen in 2008. Somalia alone accounts for more than half of piracy attacks (406) reported all over the world in 2009.

But the question arises that why piracy fostered only in Somalia and not in any other coastal country in the region. Several factors are thought to be behind piracy boom in Somalia. Also, while a lot has been written about how to address piracy off the coast of Somalia, much lesser attention has been given to the political unrest, poverty and pollution that have led many Somalis into piracy.

Anarchy can easily be cited as one of the root causes for growing piracy in Somalia. The country has been without an effective central government since 1991 when its military regime was overthrown by warlords. In the absence of effective government, Puntland in northern Somalia declared its autonomy in 1998. Pirates are mainly based in Puntland and it is widely believed that administration of this breakaway region is in hand in glove with pirates.
Widespread poverty and huge profits have also driven many locals to take on piracy, hijacking and kidnapping as their main business. Poor coordination among international powers patrolling the area has only helped the pirates. Experts say that the cycle of getting ransom and acquiring more advanced weapons has helped the spread of piracy. Somali pirates are now equipped with sophisticated weapons, satellite phones, and even Global Positioning System, all bought with the ransoms or looted from abductees. These weapons and equipments help them capture bigger vessels and get more ransom in return.
Somali pirates attack the vessels on the sea, disappear on land, and reappear on the sea. Naval security experts believe that to eliminate pirates it is important to destroy their land bases. But this would not happen unless major naval powers, backed by land and air forces, coordinate their efforts to demolish the safe bases. 

According to experts and investigative journalists, lately the coast of Somalia has become a receptacle of nuclear and other hazardous waste dumped by foreign shipping companies. Many of the Somalia’s pirates also view foreign shipping companies as a threat to livelihood of fishermen community. And they claim to defend their coast against this pollution and robbery.  Over $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are reportedly being stolen every year by illegal trawlers off Somalia’s coast.      

Some of the observers opine that dumping of nuclear waste off the coast of Somalia has prompted these pirates to attack vessels. The dumping of hazardous wastes creates risks for the coastal population. After the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People suffered from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Many Somalis allege that in the absence of a central government to keep a watch over nation’s coasts, European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource which is seafood. The large scale fishing by the large trawlers have forced Somali fishermen to give up their profession and to take up piracy in order to dissuade the foreign dumpers and trawlers. These fishermen prefer to call themselves the Volunteer Coastguards of Somalia.

Swaty Prakash  |  swatyprakash@gmail.com

Swaty Prakash is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi.

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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