Famine to engulf southern Somalia in weeks

2011-08-04 14:54

Nairobi – Extreme drought behind famine creeping across Somalia, also hitting the capital, is likely to persist in the coming months, tipping all of the country’s south into a state of famine, experts have warned.

The whole of southern Somalia is already suffering severe food insecurity because of the drought in several Horn of Africa countries, causing what the UN says is the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis today.

The continuing lack of rain meant the crisis would only deepen, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said after three new areas were declared yesterday to be in famine, following two announced last month.

“The rest of southern Somalia is suffering severe food insecurity and is also likely to reach famine levels within the next six weeks, despite the mounting relief effort,” it said in a statement.

At least 2.8 million people, including 1.25 million children, are in dire need of assistance in southern Somalia, it said. Nearly half of Somalia’s estimated 10 million people require humanitarian aid.

The UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) yesterday declared famine in three new parts of southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu and the world’s largest camp for displaced people at Afgoye.

Famine was declared last month in two districts, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

The UN unit described drought-hit Somalia as “the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa’s worst food security crisis since Somalia’s 1991-92 famine”.

The latest famine declaration “confirms our concerns over the increasing severity of the crisis facing Somalia, especially IDPs (internally displaced people),” UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said.

Bowden urged “all parties to support an urgent scale up of assistance so that we can save the lives of those who most need our support at this critical moment”.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militia has been blamed for worsening the effects of the drought by restricting aid delivery in regions of Somalia under their control.

The famine-affected regions are mainly under the rule of al-Shabaab which from 2009 expelled several foreign aid groups.

The drought has also affected parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, but Somalia is the worst hit because of the Islamist al-Shabaab rebels’ relentless conflict and aid restriction.

In Mogadishu, daily survival is struggle for residents who are also observing the Ramadan dusk-to-dawn fast.

“Every year I used to be able to break my fast in a very good manner,” local Mohamed Idris told AFP.

“But not now because the situation is too bad. We don’t have food to break our fast with,” the 51-year-old added.

Some $2.4 billion is required to assist 12 million people affected by the worst drought for decades in the Horn of Africa but only half of that amount has been received.

The African Union, which has contributed $500 000, today postponed to August 25 a donors conference to raise funds for the crisis. The meeting was initially scheduled for next week. No explanation was given.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said this week it had distributed food to 162 000 people in southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu.

The agency is among a handful foreign relief groups allowed to operate by the Shebab in their regions.

The United States on Wednesday called for global action to save lives.

“It is the most severe humanitarian crisis in a generation,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons told a Senate hearing on the famine.

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