Horn of Africa: Without food, without water, without options

from Refugees International
Published on 06 Jul 2011 View Original

July 06, 2011 | Garrett Bradford

The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in almost sixty years affecting ten million people. Somalia is one of the nations in the region hit hardest by the extreme lack of rain. It is also one of the poorest and most crisis-prone countries on the planet. Somalia is experiencing the driest season on record since the mid-20th century, resulting in widespread famine.

“When there is no water and hence no food, people must move or they will die,” says Alice Thomas, RI’s Climate Displacement Program Manager. “And moving they are – and in great numbers.”

Ten thousand Somalis are arriving weekly to refugee camps in the region seeking food and water. In Kenya, the number of people entering the Dadaab refugee camp has increased by four-fold compared to June 2010 as a result of both renewed conflict and drought in neighboring Somalia. According to the UNHCR, more than 50 percent of Somali children arriving in camps are seriously malnourished; yet others tragically are not surviving the trek.

"Unless we are able to take action now, I think that we are likely to see not just more migration, but a level of deaths in Somalia that takes us back almost 20 years and certainly has been unparalleled in the recent decade," says the UN's Mark Bowden.

Sadly, people fleeing drought are not finding relief in countries that are able to fully meet their needs – rather, they are fleeing to neighboring countries that are also suffering from drought.

Kenya itself is dealing with severe drought and the resulting humanitarian crisis. Crops and cattle are dead in the fields due to insufferable heat. Inflation rates for food staples have tripled. Hospital admissions for malnutrition are up nearly 80 percent from last year.

The story is not so different in neighboring Ethiopia. Millions are in need of food assistance. Refugee camps are filling with people fleeing conflict and famine from neighboring Somalia.

The picture is clear: The Horn of Africa is in dire need of aid, principally food assistance.

Yet the size and duration of the disaster have led some countries to give up. At the moment, UNICEF faces a $250 million humanitarian aid funding gap. In May, the World Food Program only had enough food to feed 63 percent of the almost 1 million Somalis the UN agency planned to feed. In total, humanitarian assistance to Somalia has dropped 41 percent over the past three years. This is not the time for funding to be reduced, rather ramped up to meet the massive current and growing need.

We ought to demand that our government and those of other contributing countries step up to help the tens of millions of Africans that suffer today.

Aid must be sent to relieve those stricken by drought and food insecurity. Further suffering and loss of life can be stopped if we do more.