WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military-led relief operation i Somalia could become a model for intervention in other war-torn and famine-struck regions, says the U.S. official in charge of Somalian famine relief.
"This is a historic event, a precedent-setting event, that will live beyond the event itself as a model for other interventions of similar kind," said Andrew S. Natsios, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which oversees all U.S. non-military foreign aid in Somalia.
The initial success of the Somalia operation suggested that a large military force, strong enough to seize the balance of power in situations of anarchy, may be better for relief work than a
gradual injection of troops as the United Nations had done in beleagured countries like Yugoslavia and Cambodia, Mr. Natsios told reporters yesterday.
He was not suggesting that U.S. forces should be used in these countries, he said, only that a large military contingent, of whatever nationality, may be best in some crises.
Mr. Natsios insisted he was not stepping beyond administration policy, but his remarks come at a time of mounting speculation that the United States may intervene militarily in the Balkans crisis.
Mr. Natsios disclosed that plans were afoot to draw the military mission and the numerous relief programs in Somalia closer together by placing AID officers in all senior military commands, and by posting Defense Department civil affairs officers in humanitarian relief organizations.
"We hope to have a very high level of cooperation between the different institutions running [the relief program]," he said.
International relief organizations were being overwhelmed by crises: While there had been five "complex emergencies" a year on average during the 1980s, he said, there were 16 such crises in 1992 alone.
In southern Somalia, where 300,000 people are said to have died this year, another 4.5 million -- more than two-thirds of the population -- are in need of assistance, aid workers say. Two million were "at risk" and needed urgent assistance.
Mr. Natsios said he expected expanded food shipments to begin moving immediately to the outlying areas.
"It does not mean all starvation is going to end. . . . There are a lot of people who are so far gone now that even if we brought them into a hospital we could not save them," he said.
He could not say how many are on the verge of death because the fighting had prevented aid workers from reaching outlying areas and villages.
"I'm afraid of what we're going to find when we get there," he said.
Food alone was not enough, he said.
Many people were dying of diseases contracted by drinking polluted or disease-ridden water.
Thousands of others were succumbing to epidemics of dysentery, measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia, especially in the southern centers of Baidoa and Bardera.
Prior to November, relief agencies were losing 30 percent to 40 percent of food to looters and protection racketeers. The losses rose to as much as 80 percent after fighting escalated in mid-November.
Relief agencies tried to flood the markets with food to drive down prices and make looting unprofitable. "We did succeed in doing that, and all it did was increase the looting rate," Mr. Natsios said. "I must say our strategy did not work."
He outlined a five-point rehabilitation program for Somalia that, he said, would take "some time" to accomplish but that aid groups would have to accomplish if the country is to regain its equilibrium:
* Resume immediately the distribution of seeds and implements to outlying areas to allow Somalis to once again grow their traditional crops of corn, beans and sorghum.
Seed distribution was abandoned in September because of thfighting. But it is imperative to plant the crops before the heavy rain season starts in April, Mr. Natsios said.
Somalia was expected to produce only about 80,000 tons of the 700,000 tons of grains and beans that its people would need this year. In normal times the country grew 350,000 tons and imported the rest.
* Resettle the hundreds of thousands of people who have deserted villages and encourage them to resume cultivation and return to everyday life.
* Treat and feed emaciated livestock.
* Start a public works program and take steps to stimulate money circulation, employing "anybody who will work" to restore roads and bridges, renovate damaged buildings and remove tons of war debris and garbage from the streets.
* Under United Nations supervision seek to restore the authority of clan and village elders and set up an indigenous security force to complement the U.N. forces.
"I think it may be some time before we have a political settlement," Mr. Natsios said.
But he noted that the meeting expected today between two prominent warlords was a sigificant step forward.