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UN Declares Famine in South Somalia, Refugees Flee to Kenya

Posted on the 20 July 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
UN declares famine in south Somalia, refugees flee to Kenya

Militants from the radical group Al Shabab practise exercises in Somalia. Photo credit: Olhares Magicos

As severe drought continues to grip East Africa, the UN has declared a famine in parts of Somalia. Mark Bowden, UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the region, said that malnutrition rates in Somalia  are currently the highest in the world and warned that without prompt action famine may spread throughout the country. According to Oxfam, 3,500 people are fleeing the region every day – with most ending up in severely overcrowded refugee camps. But getting aid to the region may not be a simple task: Somalia has been ravaged by conflict for almost 20 years, with rebel groups locked in conflict with the Ethiopia-backed government.

UN criteria for the declaration of famine: two adults or four children per group of 10,000 people die of malnutrition per day; 30 percent of children under five are malnourished.

  • An inadequate response: Oxfam has criticised the global response to the growing crisis. “The crisis has been building for several months but the response from international donors and regional governments has been mostly slow, inadequate and complacent, and the aid response is still $800m short of what is needed,” said Ian Bray. “There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility to act.” According to Al Jazeera, Oxfam representative Fran Equiza pointed to Italy, Denmark and France as the worst contributors. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged a further $28 million in aid, and aid agencies have stepped up public appeals.

“An urgent wake up call to the rest of the world.” Oxfam.

  • Refugee crisis. Writing in The Guardian, Xan Rice described the plight of Somali refugees who have escaped to the Dadaab camp in Kenya. Originally built to house 90,00 people, the camp currently holds 370,000 Somalis, with 1,300 refugees arriving on a daily basis, according to UN statistics.
  • Security issues. The regions currently most affected by the famine, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, are controlled by Islamic rebel group al-Shabaab, which has previously declared allegiance to Al Qaeda and has been suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of foreign aid workers. In 2010, al-Shabaab banned the World Food Programme from operating in the region. Al-Shabaab was also recently accused by Amnesty International of forcibly recruiting children to fight on the front line. Following the most recent food crisis, there are signs that the insurgents are relaxing their stance towards foreign aid: Al-Shabaab has declared that it will allow relief organisations into the area. The US has reacted with caution to the declaration, with a State Department spokesperson stating: “If Al-Shabaab is now saying it will allow these humanitarian efforts, then the international community should test that because they have been a problem in the past.”

Ways to donate: DEC East Africa appeal, UNICEF and Oxfam

  • Future perfect. In The Telegraph, Ozwald Boateng urged the British government to look beyond the immediate crisis to develop strategies to prevent its recurrence. “With the economy unlikely to recover on domestic growth alone, Britain should tie its fortunes to African growth and in so doing solve the issues like those that have led to this year’s famine,” he said.

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