Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dying Of Hunger

The most severe drought in the memory of Somalia's people has caused what the UN is calling the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Somalia's crisis is shared by neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, countries without their own adequate water supplies. They have been suffering from the same drought conditions. The effects of Somalia's current drought and food shortages are exacerbated by many years of internal warfare and non-functioning government, economy and infrastructure. Somalia is a severely distressed country to begin with. It's no wonder that piracy is a popular job opportunity for young men, as is the increasingly influential Al-Shebaab militia.

Outside Dadaab camp, Kenya

Hundreds of thousands have fled the interior desert to Somalia's cities and to countries across its border. Many children are arriving near death, some don't make it in time. The UN is appealing for urgent help for Somali refugees.

8 July 2011 – The United Nations refugee agency said today that the flood of Somali refugees into Ethiopia could overwhelm the ability of humanitarian agencies to help them, and called for urgent international assistance.

“Humanitarian efforts to help newly arriving Somali refugees in south-east Ethiopia are at risk of being overwhelmed without a more rapid and robust international response to the drought and displacement crisis in the Horn of Africa,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Kenya, some 1,400 new Somali refugees continue to arrive in Dadaab refugee complex every day, Ms. Fleming said, adding that 80 per cent of them are women and children.

“Our top priorities are to address the malnutrition and overcrowding in the camps. There is an urgent need for medical staff and nutritional items such as high energy and high protein therapeutic meals,” she said.

“The main challenge is to receive and rapidly stabilize Somali refugees arriving in extremely poor health conditions.”

Malnutrition rates among Somali children under the age of five arriving in Dadaab are around 30 per cent, she said.

“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 Ms. Fleming. “The drought is compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country.”

We've all seen this before, of course, but this time it resonates as much with climate change issues as with warfare and bad government in a beleaguered region of Africa.

Habiba Osman Ibrahim, a 76-year old Somali refugee from the al-Shabab-controlled Luk region of Somalia, said she walked for three days with her two underfed grandchildren. Al-Shabab is Somalia's dangerous militant group. It had forced out all international aid groups, but earlier this month said they could return considering the desperate conditions.

"We were dependent on food aid," she said. "But because al-Shabab forced out all relief operations and there was no food we had no choice but to flee." Source

The epicenter of the drought lies on the three-way border shared by Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, a nomadic region where families heavily depend on the health of their livestock. Uganda and Djibouti have also been hit.

The World Food Program said it expects 10 million people in the Horn of Africa to require food assistance. WFP currently provides food aid to 6 million people in East Africa. Source

The two main refugee camps are in Dadaab, Kenya and Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world, with 380,000 people occupying facilities built for about 90,000, and 10,000 more arriving every week. Source.


This huge camp was originally built for Somalia's war refugees and is an impressive sight on Google Earth. There are actually three camps, easily seen in the 2009 green patches of imagery. Thousands more people are on the outskirts awaiting processing.

Dadaab camp's new arrivals


Dollo Ado

This Ethiopian camp does not show on GE as far as I can see, even though it has existed off-and-on since about 2006. One source says it consists of small compounds scattered around the village of Dolo, which is undoubtedly much bigger with the current influx of refugees.


Since the start of the year, 54,000 Somalis have crossed into [the Dollo Ado] area of Ethiopia... Rates of arrival have accelerated in recent weeks to around 1,700 people per day. Malnutrition rates are alarmingly high among the most recent arrivals. At least 50 per cent of children are either moderately or severely malnourished. Similar rates are being recorded in Kenya. Source.

UN News Centre

Somalian refugee camps.kmz (80 downloads)

Al-Shebaab has gone back on what was reportedly its word of last week. Food and other aid are not being allowed to pass through their territory to refugee camps inside Somalia. This is a full-fledged famine, with UN World Food Program airlifts finally due to begin tomorrow (Tuesday). Thousands of people, who have trekked for days or weeks, still have many more days to wait before they are processed and allowed into the camps. NGO staff at the camps cannot keep up with the flood of people. Many die as they wait at the perimeter, or if they have not died, they are too starved and dehydrated to save. Children, mostly.

Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Ibrahim warned at the emergency meeting in Rome that more than 3.5 million people "may starve to death" in his country. [My highlighting.]

Islamists, who control most of Somalia, have banned the WFP from their areas.

Al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda, has accused the groups it has banned from its territories of being political.

This is about saving lives now. It's not about politics”

'Scandal of century'

France's Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire told the meeting at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation headquarters in Rome that the world had "failed to ensure food security".

"If we don't take the necessary measures, famine will be the scandal of this century," AFP news agency quotes Mr Le Maire as saying.

Ahead of the Rome summit, the World Bank pledged $500m (£307m) to help.

Some $12m will be for immediate assistance to those worst hit by what the UN says is East Africa's worst drought in 60 years.

But the bulk of the money will go towards long-term projects to aid livestock farmers.

That last sentence is not encouraging, due to the doubtful sustainability of livestock - especially cattle - in much of Africa.

Additional analysis from Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent.

There are dozens of experienced local aid organisations already working throughout Somalia - a fact that often gets lost in the furore over al-Shabab's hostile attitude towards some of the bigger international organisations, like WFP.

There's no doubt that the drought - and the Arab spring - have shaken up the security situation in Somalia.

Anecdotal evidence suggests al-Shabab is now seriously short of money, more divided than ever, and many of the foreign jihadist fighters who came to join it have left the country for other struggles.

Some thousands of people have arrived in Mogadishu seeking aid and The World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran said Saturday they can't reach the estimated 2.2 million Somalis in desperate need of aid who are in militant-controlled areas of Somalia.
AP via Google News.

Rains Add Misery to Somalia's Famine Refugees

Published July 31, 2011

| Associated Press

July 31: A young boy from southern Somalia takes cover in a makeshift shelter in Mogadishu.

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somali refugees were cold and drenched after torrential rains pounded their makeshift structures overnight into early Sunday in the capital, leading to appeals for aid.

Rains are needed to plant crops and alleviate the drought that is causing famine in Somalia but they added to the misery of many refugees who live in structures made of sticks and pieces of cloth.


This is a sickening situation, reported by NYTimes:
Somalis Waste Away as Insurgents Block Escape From Famine

Published: August 1, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Shabab Islamist insurgent group, which controls much of southern Somalia, is blocking starving people from fleeing the country and setting up a cantonment camp where it is imprisoning displaced people who were trying to escape Shabab territory.
Enlarge This Image

The group is widely blamed for causing a famine in Somalia by forcing out many Western aid organizations, depriving drought victims of desperately needed food. The situation is growing bleaker by the day, with tens of thousands of Somalis already dead and more than 500,000 children on the brink of starvation.

EDIT 2 Aug:
The front page of today's NYTimes featured a photo of an emaciated Somali child, by staff photographer Tyler Hicks, and apparently shocked some readers. For some reason, Times executive editor Bill Keller was compelled to explain in an email to the Huffington Post, in what I read as barely-concealed sarcasm:
... We realize, of course, that the story du jour is the debt vote — to which we devoted the lead story and upwards of four pages this morning — but there's no reason that has to eclipse a human catastrophe in Africa. Readers can follow more than one important story at a time. Jeffrey [Gettleman, see his article above] and Tyler went to great trouble and some risk to get as close as they could to the calamity in Somalia. They sent us a harrowing story and vivid, arresting photographs. We put them before the attention of our readers. That's our job.


This hugely important and tragic situation has been off the news radar in the United States. So, my fellow Americans and friends, please...these are all highly regarded charities working, at great risk to themselves, in the refugee camps...

International Rescue Committee
Save the Children
Mercy Corps

Also see the UNICEF link in my signature.
...UNICEF Horn of Africa

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, is visiting Somali refugee camps to raise awareness of the dire situation. "There is hope if people start to pay attention to this," said Ms. Biden...

More than 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates. The UN says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, suggesting the death toll of small children will rise.

Meanwhile, CNN started occasional coverage of the crisis a few days ago. I see that Anderson Cooper will be in Somalia for two days.

EDIT 8/9: Kenya, of course, is included in this drought and famine crisis. One tribe, the Turkana , are suffering nearly as much as the Somalis who have taken refuge on their land. One Kenyan expert makes a point that it is especially pertinent in these times of instantaneous communication. In centuries past, the excuse could be made that drought 1,000 miles away was unknown to those with resources to share if they were so inclined.

The Turkana of Northwest Kenya are tough, desert-dwelling pastoralists, accustomed to water shortage. This time, even they are in trouble.

[T]he current dry spell was long predicted so some feel the crisis could have been prevented.

"This is a governance drought. It is a situation caused by the failure of the government to plan," said John Githongo, a well known anti-corruption activist who heads the Inuka Kenya Trust campaign group.

"Drought is an act of God. Famine is an act of man. What we are going through - it's an act of men.

The Turkana have been catastrophically let down. We have watched them melting in the sun like an ice cream for the last two years knowing this was coming," he said. [More @ BBC]

Carcasses of sheep and goats amidst a severe drought in Waridaad in the Somaliland region.

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