Humanitarian Aid

Famine in Somalia
Millions on brink of starvation


In the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, an estimated 12.4 million people face death by starvation in the Horn of Africa. Already tens of thousands have died in this famine which threatens to spiral out of control unless the world wakes up and responds with generous donations to relief agencies who are ready and capable to extend their operations in the region, but are short of money.

At an emergency summit of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, on 17 August 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, made an impassioned plea to Islamic countries to step up to the plate and bear some responsibility for the famine in Somalia, which the UN is calling the worst in decades. Millions face death by starvation and tens of thousands have already died.

Erdogan said that Islam dictates “that you do not go to bed full if your neighbour is hungry”.

“If we had fulfilled our responsibilities, would our brethren nation Somalia be in this situation?” he asked. “This is not only a test for the Somali people, it is a test for all humanity.”

The UN says 3.2 million people are on the brink of starvation. They are among the 12.4 million people across the wider region, encompassing Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, who are in urgent need of food and humanitarian assistance.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 875,000 Somali refugees and asylum-seekers in neighbouring countries, with Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti hosting more than 90% of them. About 1.5 million more Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in the south-central region of the country.

At the conference OIC countries pledged $350 million in aid to fight famine in Somalia.

Responding to this commitment, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC Secretary General, said: “All in all we have secured $350 million in pledges. We hope to raise the commitments to $500 million.”

Erdogan, criticising the rich lifestyles of some in the West, said: “If you ride a luxury car you should be generous enough to people who are struggling with hunger.

“I hope the efforts (of the OIC) will mobilise the sleeping consciences. We hope the Western world, which likes to boast about its per capita income, shows its support for Somalia.”

Reuters reports that US humanitarian aid to the region this year so far has totalled more than $580 million.

According to the UN, donors have so far provided more than $1.3 billion to the relief effort in the Horn of Africa, but just under $1.2 billion was still needed.

Erdogan said Turkey would open six field hospitals in Somalia and send 20 tonnes of medication and 10 tonnes of food.

Despite relief efforts, famine spreads

Meanwhile, at a UN press briefing in New York on 17 August, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who had just returned from Somalia and Kenya, said: “We’ve demonstrated, I think, how much can be accomplished when aid agencies are given the resources they need and can get to where they need to get to.

“But we’re faced with a still spreading famine in Somalia and with such a scale of suffering that every effort needs to be made and sustained in the months ahead.

“Hot meals are being given every day to almost 100,000 people. Half a million people are getting clean water, which is crucial as we seek to prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases. An emergency measles vaccination campaign to reach 88,000 children and 46,000 women is already happening.

“Nonetheless, it is clear that even in Mogadishu the famine has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and it will kill many more if we do not further scale up our efforts,” she stated.

“We need to get more food and nutritional supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene equipment, and medical care to those who are in desperate need,” she added, while also noting that the crisis is not limited to Somalia.


Relief agencies call for urgent funding to cope with crisis
The United Nations estimates that the total number of people in need could rise up by 25% and surpass 15 million soon if urgent action on all fronts is not taken, such as providing emergency food, water and shelter.

International agency Oxfam says said the international community is failing to keep pace with a crisis that is spiralling out of control.

Action Against Hunger, an international humanitarian organisation committed to ending world hunger, says ongoing relief efforts are insufficient to counter the scope and severity of the crisis gripping Somalia and the rest of the eastern region.

In July Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, made an impassioned plea to the international community to mobilise resources to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia.

“To save the lives of the people at risk – the vast majority of them women and children – we need approximately US$1.6 billion in aid,” Ban said in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. “So far, international donors have given only half that amount. To turn the tide, to offer hope in the name of our common humanity, we must mobilise worldwide.

“This means everyone. I appeal to all nations – both those who fund our work year-in and year-out, and those who do not traditionally give through the multinational system – to step up to the challenge,” he said.

OCHA said in August that the appeal for funds to respond to the famine in the Horn of Africa was only 44% funded.

Jens Oppermann, Action Against Hunger’s country director in Somalia said: “The crisis will only grow in magnitude and severity unless immediate funding is made available and measures are taken to enable aid agencies to further scale up relief efforts.”

Reiterating the Secretary- General’s call, Oxfam, in early August, called on governments and donors to act with greater urgency in the face of a deteriorating crisis in East Africa.

Donors must move beyond promises and immediately turn money pledged into action on the ground, the organisation said.
What is famine?
On 3 August the United Nations declared a famine in three more areas in drought-ravaged Somalia, bringing to five the number of regions in the Horn of Africa country where acute malnutrition and starvation have already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The five regions are: The Afgoye corridor outside Mogadishu, the capital itself, the Middle Shabelle region, the Lower Shabelle and the southern Bakool region.

A famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20% of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30%; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

The vicious cycle of hunger – ill-health – poverty means that fewer resources are dedicated to health care just as health needs increase as a result of poor diet. Lack of water and population displacements, which result in precarious sanitation, further increases the risk of communicable diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and measles.

Responding to the malnutrition crisis

As drought continues to affect millions of people in parts of the Horn of Africa, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctors Without Borders is seeing a dramatic effect on the Somali population. Poor harvests, dying livestock, rising food prices, continuing violence and chronic poverty have all contributed to a sudden rise in malnutrition rates both inside Somalia and in the overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.


In south-central Somalia where MSF is running nine medicalnutritional programmes, staff have witnessed a sharp increase in malnutrition cases in various locations. Growing numbers of families are coming great distances to reach MSF’s hospitals and therapeutic feeding centres, and in certain locations MSF feeding centres are receiving up to seven times more patients compared to last year.

“Most of our therapeutic feeding programmes in Somalia are running over capacity, with more than 3,400 children currently enrolled in our nutritional programmes,” says Joe Belliveau, MSF operational manager. “We are running emergency nutritional projects in several locations in the Lower Juba valley region, in Galgaduud, Mudug, Lower Shabelle, and Bay regions. [During] the past weeks we’ve seen a sharp rise in cases with some people travelling hundreds of kilometres to get access to health care and treatment for their malnourished children.”

Aid and shelter

With limited assistance available in Somalia, the only solution for thousands of Somalis has been to take a long and perilous trek in the hope of reaching refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

In Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, the largest camp in the world, around 1,400 Somalis continue to arrive every day. The camps, originally built to cater for 90,000 people, now house more than 380,000 people. As the camps are overwhelmed with the sheer number of new arrivals, most newcomers are forced to fend for themselves in the surrounding desert until they can be registered and assisted.

In an assessment on the outskirts of one of Dadaab’s camp sites, MSF teams found extremely high malnutrition rates among children arriving from Somalia. As many as 37.7% of the children between six months and five years old were suffering from acute malnutrition. Of these, 17.5% were severely affected, with high risk of death. Children up to the age of 10 were also showing higher rates of malnutrition.

“I expected to find a difficult situation, but not a catastrophic one,” said Anita Sackl, coordinator of the assessment. “The majority of new arrivals actually fled [Somalia] because they had nothing to eat – not just because their country has been at war for decades.”

In Dadaab camps, MSF is currently treating 2,402 children in its ambulatory therapeutic feeding programme and 138 children in its inpatient therapeutic feeding centre. An additional 5,047 children with moderate acute malnutrition are enrolled in MSF’s supplementary feeding programme. There are now around 10,000 people in MSF’s feeding programme in the camps.

Ethiopia and Djibouti

Thousands of Somalis have also been crossing the border into Ethiopia and Djibouti. In Liben camps in southern Ethiopia, MSF screened children under 5 years old on their arrival in the camps and found that 37% were malnourished. MSF teams are treating more than 7,000 children in nutritional programmes and providing primary healthcare to refugees at these camps.

In response to the worsening situation, MSF has been scaling up its medical assistance in the refugee camps, and is preparing to scale up its assistance inside Somalia. MSF has also been urging all parties inside Somalia, neighbouring countries, and the international community to significantly improve assistance to the Somali population in the region and to remove all hurdles that currently prevent the expansion of independent aid inside Somalia.

ate of upload: 18th Oct 2011


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