Aid agencies prepare for famine to be declared in Horn of Africa

NAIROBI/LONDON — Famine will be declared in the Horn of Africa unless there is an urgent injection of food and aid into the area, aid agencies have warned.

Internally displaced Somalis carry their belongings as they arrive in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, July 4, 2011, in search of greener pastures following a prolonged drought. Donor fatigue following recurrent humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa has left aid agencies short of funds to carry out their work. The number of refugees in need of assistance has risen in countries affected by a severe drought, including Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, a UNICEF spokesman said. Photo: Feisal Omar, Reuters

A combination of failed rains and soaring global food prices has left more than 12 million people living in remote areas across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia facing hunger, according to aid agencies.

Save the Children says that more than a quarter of children in the worst-hit parts of Kenya are now dangerously malnourished.

The warning comes as the British Government on Sunday announced it was to give $58 million in food aid to Ethiopia and urged other countries to follow suit.

There are fears that the population of the world’s biggest refugee camp in Dadaab, Northern Kenya, could reach 500,000. More than 1,300 new refugees are arriving every day.

Speaking from Dadaab, David Orr, of the United Nations’ World Food Program, said the area has had its second lowest rainfall in 60 years. “It is an extremely severe drought situation,” he said. “It is certainly at critical level.”

Surveys on food security and rates of malnutrition are being carried out by aid agencies and national governments. All the information will be fed into the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which was set up to help aid agencies deal with situations such as this. A famine would be declared if the UN judged from the surveys that food and water availability was below a certain critical level.

Sonia Zambakides, of Save the Children in Somalia, said the area is experiencing the “most severe” food crisis in the world today.

“It is very close to a famine,” she told the BBC. “There are very specific markers that are used globally to declare a famine. At the moment those have not been reached. But a nutritional and food security survey is being carried out in Somalia at the moment. Results of that will be in within two or three weeks and we will know if it is a famine then.”

Oxfam has launched its largest ever appeal to try to prevent a famine, asking for $77 million to reach three million people in dire need of clean water, food and basic sanitation.

Jane Cocking, the charity’s humanitarian director, said more aid is needed. “This is the worst food crisis of the 21st century and we are seriously concerned that large numbers of lives could soon be lost,” she said.

The European Commission is to give about $14 million in urgent food aid to North Koreans on the brink of starvation, after negotiating for “unprecedented access” to ensure that the food goes straight to those most in need.

The money will be used to buy food through the World Food Program and Save the Children, and will be directed to 650,000 children, breastfeeding women, hospital patients and the elderly.

-The Daily Telegraph

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