Somalis dying in world’s worst famine in 20 years

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Somali women displaced by drought, wait to receive rations at a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died in the worst hunger emergency in a generation.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya — Tens of thousands of Somalis are feared dead in the world’s worst famine in a generation, the U.N. said Wednesday, and the U.S. said it will allow emergency funds to be spent in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants as long as the fighters do not interfere with aid distributions.

Exhausted, rail-thin women are stumbling into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia with dead babies and bleeding feet, having left weaker family members behind along the way.

“Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. “This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives ... it’s likely that conditions will deteriorate further in six months.”

Oxfam said $1 billion is needed for famine relief. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced an additional $28 million in emergency funding on top of the $431 million in assistance already given this year.

The Horn of Africa is suffering a devastating drought compounded by war, neglect, poor land policies and spiraling prices. Some areas in the region have not had such a low rainfall in 60 years, aid group Oxfam said.

In some areas of Somalia, six people are dying a day and more than half of children are acutely malnourished, Bowden said. Prices of staple foods have increased 270 percent over the last year, compounding the misery.

Somalia’s civil war is partly to blame, said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia.

He said aid groups found fundraising easier if they blamed natural disaster rather admitting the emergency was partly caused by a complex, 20-year civil war worsened by international apathy and incompetence.

“There is no clear cut answer,” he said. “People are suffering and there is a need to respond. But drought is not the only cause. Conflict is a key reason and it is not being addressed properly.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: US sends famine-relief aid to Somalia