By Denis Foynes
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 – "I have never seen anything like it. Many mothers have lost three or four children. It's a tragedy out here," Austin Kennan, regional director for the Horn of Africa for Concern Worldwide, told IPS from within the crisis zone.
The United Nations and humanitarian workers report that food insecurity is now at emergency levels across the Horn of Africa, affecting Kenya, Ethiopia and especially south Somalia, with 11 million people in dire need of emergency assistance due in part to a major prolonged drought.
"From our point of view, this is the worst drought we have seen in Africa since the 1950s, but it must be remembered that this is not the only factor that led to this level of crisis," Alun McDonald, media and communications officer for the Horn, East and Central Africa at Oxfam, explained to IPS.
"The effects of high staple food prices and the conflicts in the region over the last few decades have become all the more devastating due to the drought," said McDonald, who is based in Nairobi. "This combination has wreaked havoc in the region."
So dire is the situation that the Islamic terror group Al-Shabaab has lifted restrictions on foreign aid workers coming into the areas in Somalia they control.
But many aid workers and agencies are wary of returning. For example, the U.N. World Food Programme states that it won't even consider returning to Al-Shabaab-controlled territory until after an 18-month absence.
Valerie Amos, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, spent two days in the region earlier this month. "I spoke with a woman who walked five hours with her children to get help," Amos said. "More and more children are malnourished. Livestock has died as has a way of life. People have lost everything."
Many Somalis have simply abandoned their bone-dry farms and moved into the capital Mogadishu in hopes of avoiding starvation.
Scores of civilians have gone further. The rate of refugees arriving from Somalia into Ethiopia surged from 5,000 a month to 30,000 in the second week of June alone.
The influx is even larger in neighbouring Kenya. The U.N. states that thousands of Somalis crossing the borders are arriving in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in Kenya.
The camp intended for 90,000 people now has around 380,000 refugees and is unable to cope, the U.N. says.
A few miles away from Dadaab lies a brand-new refugee camp built by the U.N. for 20 million dollars in 2010.
Yet it lies empty due to complaints from the Kenyan government that opening the camp will bring too many refugees and provide cover for the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab among others who have targeted the country in the past.
For the complete article, please see IPS.