Somalia's urgent need this Ramadan

As Ramadan opens with reports of millions of desperate Muslims in Somalia, the UAE is sending help – and individuals can, as well, through the Red Crescent

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Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi just wanted to save his family from Somalia's devastating famine. As he attempted to take his family across the border into Kenya, the 40-year-old father of seven was arrested by the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militia and thrown in jail for two days.

Over the next 17 days, his life got even worse. He escaped from the Islamist militants and reunited with his family, only for them all to be attacked by a gang that stole their food and possessions. He watched as his pregnant wife was assaulted, and his 7-year-old died of starvation.

This is both an unconscionable tragedy and - for many of the 2.2 million Somali refugees fleeing Al Shabaab-controlled areas that are inaccessible to aid groups - an all-too-familiar account.

As the holy month of Ramadan begins today, it is essential that Muslims in the UAE and around the world pay heed to these stories. Hundreds of thousands of fellow Muslims are starving in East Africa, today, at this moment.

This urgency has not fallen on deaf ears. The first phase of a UAE relief programme to assist victims was launched on Saturday. Volunteers from the Red Crescent Authority and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Charity Foundation are setting up tent camps in Mogadishu aimed at housing thousands of people fleeing drought-stricken areas.

But much more needs to be done. One of the five pillars of Islam is performing zakat, and the charitable obligation - and privilege - is all the more pronounced during Ramadan, and during such a crisis.

As The National has reported, some UAE residents have been frustrated in their efforts to make personal contributions to alleviate the suffering in the Horn of Africa. Certainly people should consider channelling their generosity through official organisations like the Red Crescent so that aid can be delivered in an effective manner.

Time is also of the essence. Al Shabaab may be planning a major offensive during Ramadan, which could worsen the situation.

Perhaps the international community, including Muslim nations, have allowed the situation in Somalia to deteriorate too far. As we celebrate the holy month, surrounded by the wealth of the UAE, every generous donation should help people like Mr Abdi, millions of people who face so much hardship this Ramadan.