THE belated international rescue effort in Somalia worked reasonably well. But it may take rival Somali factions another five years to reach the kind of political stability necessary to avoid more war, anarchy, and starvation.
That was the assessment of Ethirajulu Krishnan, a senior official of the relief organization CARE, as the US handed the reins of the Somali relief and protection effort to the United Nations May 4.
Continued international commitment to help Somalia rebuild its society probably will depend on Somalis making progress toward political stability and organizing effective police and court systems, says Mr. Krishnan, CARE's Somalia director.
Krishnan, who is departing soon to take up a post in Lesotho, has been working on Somalia since September 1991, longer than most Western relief or diplomatic personnel. He helped negotiate the arrival in Mogadishu on May 3, 1992, of the first UN food relief ship to reach the Somali capital after fighting broke out in November 1991.
The US hand-over follows the presence for nearly five months of a coalition of United States-led Western and African troops that successfully halted most of the major looting of food relief supplies.
From the beginning of CARE's deliveries of large amounts of relief food to Somalia in 1992 until the US troops arrived in early December, "more than 50 percent of the resources did reach people," Krishnan says.
Before the foreign troops arrived, armed Somalis offering "protection" services against other armed Somalis demanded - and usually received - large payments from the UN and private relief agencies, including CARE, to ensure safe arrival of food and other relief items. Nevertheless, vast amounts of relief materials were looted, often through inside jobs, as in the town of Baidoa, according to many relief officials there.
After the troops arrived, Krishnan says, "virtually everything reached the people."
The international troops have collected large numbers of small arms and a much lesser quantity of heavy arms, such as the kind of artillery mounted atop vehicles known as "technicals."
But many small arms have been hidden. And larger weapons are either hidden or sitting in known sites under a disarmament agreement signed earlier this year by Somali factions. The UN faces the cumbersome task of monitoring such sites, as well as seizing weapons spotted elsewhere.
Under their peace agreement, factions are slowly trying to form a national council intended to serve as an interim government until elections can be held. But Somalis are a long way from coming together, and they continue blaming each other for lack of peace, Krishnan says.
"As long as the `I am blameless' syndrome persists, the nation-building glue is not there," he said in an interview.
During the fighting between rival factions that followed the January 1991 overthrow of former Somali dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, "the country was fragmented ... like china breaking into pieces," Krishnan says. Putting the pieces back together "might take another five years," he adds.
On the relief front, Krishnan sees a "new phase" beginning - fewer emergency deliveries to the starving, now that starvation is minimal, and more aid for rebuilding the country.
An immediate need is to provide employment - with payment in cash or food - to several hundred thousand Somalis, including at least 200,000 in Mogadishu, he says.
They could rebuild schools, provide health and water services, and clean up garbage, he suggests. But that is too big a task for private relief agencies alone and must be done by foreign governments, through the UN, he says.
Finally, Krishnan says, despite the challenges ahead, "I'm kind of optimistic."
"Even with the despondent leadership of Somalia, I see silver linings of human decency" among Somalis. "If patience persists, maybe in a year or two, something will emerge" toward a long-term stability.