Thursday, 25 August 2011

Somalia famine set to spread to two new areas: UN

NAIROBI — Famine is set to spread to two new southern Somali regions with millions of people reeling from extreme drought, the top UN humanitarian aid official for the war-torn nation warned on Wednesday.
"We are anticipating that two more areas of southern Somalia will be included," Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, told AFP.
Middle and Lower Juba are expected to be added to five other regions already declared by the UN to be in famine, including parts of the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu, he said.
"These areas were anticipated, and we are waiting only for the statistical analysis to confirm," Bowden added.
The UN has described Somalia, where a civil war has been going on since 1991, as facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world.
Last month, the UN declared famine in the southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia. It later spread to three further areas, including the Afgoye corridor, the world's largest camp for displaced people.
Famine implies that at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to UN definition.
"It (the famine declaration) stimulated a rapid increase in international funding and support," said Bowden, adding that up to $280 million of funds pledged had already been received.
Of the $1 billion requested for Somalia, 57 percent has been met, the UN official said, including $350 million promised last week by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
African leaders will also meet Thursday to pledge funds to tackle the crisis.
"The initiative is very welcome," Bowden added. "It provides encouragement for traditional donors to have the involvement of Africans helping Africans in this crisis."
Some 12.4 million people in the Horn of Africa, including parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, are affected by the worst drought in decades in the region and are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
Al-Qaeda affiliated Shebab gunmen pulled out of positions in Mogadishu earlier this month, but continue to restrict aid into areas they control in famine-hit southern regions.
Access to the worst affected areas remains severely limited, an assessment released Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned.
"Most of southern Somalia remains inaccessible to the majority of humanitarian organizations, making the provision of humanitarian assistance challenging," the agency said.
"Emergency conditions could persist well into the first quarter of 2012 in southern Somalia, and recovery may not start until the next harvest in August 2012," it added.
Bowden said measures were being taken to ensure food aid shipped to Somalia reached those in need following reports earlier this month that some supplies were stolen and offered for sale.
"There are always concerns in such a high-risk environment, and we are continually assessing the situation," Bowden said, adding there were concerns militiamen were stealing food from starving people after distribution.
Confirmed cases of cholera are also on the rise, including in Mogadishu and the Shebab-held port of Kismayo, while suspected measles cases have increased by over 660 percent compared to the same time last year, OCHA warned.
"It is feared that the measles outbreak could lead to serious illness and a high number of deaths," especially among displaced people whose "health is already fragile" the assesment read.

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