Suffering in Somalia - 25% displaced
Geneva - Persistent violence compounded by a serious drought have forced 54 000 Somalis to flee in June, bringing the total number of displaced Somalis to a quarter of the country's population, the UNHCR said on Tuesday.
The food shortage problem is so acute that there are now reports of children under five dying of hunger and exhaustion while fleeing, or dying within a day of their arrival at refugee camps despite emergency aid, the UN refugee agency said.
"The drought, compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country, is turning one of the world's humanitarian crises into a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions," said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
"In June alone, 54 000 people fled across the two borders, three times the number of people who fled in May," she noted, adding that many children arriving in Ethiopia and Kenya were seriously malnourished.
So far in 2011, some 135 000 Somalis have crossed the borders in search of refuge as well as food and water, joining millions of others who have fled over the last few years.
"We estimate that a quarter of Somalia's 7.5 million population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees," said Fleming.
Those who have been displaced recently were arriving in neighbouring host countries in very poor health conditions.
Over 50% of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia were seriously malnourished while those arriving in Kenya are showing rates reaching 30 to 40%.
"Increasingly, we are hearing reports of children below the age of five dying of hunger and exhaustion during the journey," she said.
"Tragically, many children are in such weak conditions when they finally arrive that they die within 24 hours despite the emergency care and therapeutic feeding they immediately receive," she added.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last week that ten million people in the Horn of Africa have been hit by the worst drought in 60 years, with some areas on the verge of famine and thousands on the march in search of food and water.