October 17, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

The kidnapping of two aid workers from the Dadaab refugee camp on the Kenya-Somalia border is a grim reminder of the crisis situation in the region, especially Somalia. Al-Jazeera’s Peter Greste has some numbers:

[I]n Somalia alone, four million people are still starving nationwide; three million of those live in the South. Of these, 750,000 people risk death in the next four months if they do not get aid immediately.

According to the United Nations agency responsible for monitoring food supplies in Somalia, almost half a million children are suffering from “severe acute malnutrition”. About 75 per cent of those are also in the south.

More than 900,000 Somalis are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries – 90 per cent of them in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya – already the biggest in the world – has 450,000 of them, and will almost certainly reach half a million by the end of the year. In Ethiopia, the camp in Dolo Ado has taken in 83,000 refugees in the last nine months.

UN-estimated mortality rates among children under five are alarmingly high, with an average of 15.43 deaths per 10,000 individuals daily, well above the famine threshold of two deaths per 10,000 people per day.

NPR’s Michele Klemen checks in on the efforts to raise aid money in the US:

So far aid groups have raised about $60 million from private giving in the U.S., according to Samuel Worthington, who runs InterAction, an alliance of 190 nongovernmental aid groups.

“This is sharply lower than the $1.29 billion that our members, InterAction members, raised for Haiti,” he says.

Worthington adds that Americans tend to be generous after dramatic events like earthquakes and tsunamis, but it is harder to generate that kind of response to hunger in a complicated region of Africa. Perhaps, he says, people just don’t think there’s a solution.

“We do know how to save lives during famines,” Worthington says. “We do know how to help farmers plant seeds, and we do know that we could really make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the coming months. The reality is, we do not have the resources to be able to do what we should be able to do.”

It’s not just the slow pace of private giving in these tough economic times that has aid groups worried.

Tom Hart of the aid advocacy group known as the ONE campaign says the way it looks now, budget cuts will hit foreign aid programs disproportionally — even though they amount to less than 1 percent of the federal budget. And that could undercut the things the U.S. has been able to accomplish in recent years, such as promoting food security.

But raising sufficient aid funding is only part of the job. Distributing the food to hungry Somalis is difficult due to activities of the Islamist militant group Shabab. New York Times East Africa Bureau Chief Jeffrey Gettleman tells NPR’s Neal Conan, “There is a drought across all of the Horn of Africa – Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti. But the only places that there is a famine where people are dying in great numbers are in the Shabab-controlled areas, where these Islamic militants will not allow Western groups to deliver food aid.” Gettleman also points out that it’s not as simple as handing food to people:

There are, you know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of children who are starving to death. They are too sick now to be fed. I’ve seen them myself in the hospitals and the refugee camps, you know, trudging along the roads with their families, and these kids need to be hospitalized. You can’t feed them. So what you need are, you know, a team of doctors. You need field hospitals. You need experts, and there are just not many places that can provide that right now.

The most urgent priority is preventing the starvation of 750,000 people. But as UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization discussed at a meeting earlier this month, there’s also a need for sustainable solutions to long-term development needs, in order to prevent such acute crises in the future.

One thought on “Starving in Somalia

  1. There have been famines in this part of the world almost constantly since as far back as I remember.

    Clearly, whatever the UN/etc… are doing is simply not working.

    How about linking food handouts to a sterilisation programme, for starters? It’s not like the world is short of humans these days.

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