April 24, 2014 21:23 UTC

In the News

UN Appeals for Famine Aid for Somalia

Marwo Maalin feeds her severely malnourished daughter, one-year-old Habibo Bashir, at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in a refugee camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. Hundreds of Somali children have been left for dead on the long journey to the world's larges
Marwo Maalin feeds her severely malnourished daughter, one-year-old Habibo Bashir, at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in a refugee camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. Hundreds of Somali children have been left for dead on the long journey to the world's larges

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, the United Nations declared a famine in parts of Somalia. A famine is declared when three conditions are reached. Hunger rates among children rise above thirty percent. More than two people in every one hundred thousand die each day. And many people are unable to get food and other basic needs.

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, made the announcement Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya.

MARK BOWDEN: "We estimate that almost half of the Somali population, 3.7 million people, are affected by this crisis and a full 2.8 million people live in the south, the most seriously affected area. It is likely that tens of thousands will already have died, the majority of these being children.”

The United Nations says a lack of rain over the past few years has created a famine in two areas in southern Somalia: Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Officials say the famine could spread to other areas.

This is the first time since nineteen ninety-one that the UN has declared a famine in Somalia. The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in sixty years. UN officials have said more than eleven million people are in need of food aid.

VOA asked Mark Bowden if the organization could have done more to prevent the crisis.

MARK BOWDEN: “We had been hoping to avoid famine, we spent a lot of our resources that we had at the beginning of the year specifically to help those communities that we thought might migrate, to stop migrations, which is one of the major causes of death. We spent our money, we didn't have enough to scale up as we now need to.”

Now, the United Nations is appealing for three hundred million dollars in the next two months. Officials say much of that will be used to supply existing feeding centers and to provide medical services. The money will also be used to support local economies and farmers.

Luca Alinovi is head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for Somalia. He says the objective is to keep people from fleeing the affected areas.

LUCA ALINOVI: “The only way to prevent people moving out is to make sure that they have hope for the future -- they can make something out of their lives.  How can they do that? They can do that only if they feel that in the next few months they will be in condition to produce their food.”

Bakool and Lower Shabelle are both under the control of al-Shabab. On Friday the militant group called the UN declaration "propaganda." It also said it will permit increased aid only from foreign agencies currently working in its territory.

Al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaida, and the United States has declared it a terrorist organization.

Al-Shabab took control of south-central Somalia a few years ago. Since then, its members have had a hostile relationship with foreign aid groups. Al-Shabab has accused foreign workers of being spies. Militants have kidnapped some workers and killed others. And they have often seized food and other supplies meant for starving Somalis.

As a result, many foreign donors have been unwilling to send more aid.

Al-Shabab recently ended a ban on airlifts, but a UNICEF spokeswoman, Shantha Bloemen, says there are no guarantees. On Wednesday, the UN children's agency airlifted five tons of supplies to the town of Baidoa in Lower Shabelle. The supplies included food, medicine and water cleaning equipment.

Ms. Bloemen says such a large shipment could not have happened without the approval of al-Shabab.

SHANTHA BLOEMEN: "So yes, there was dialogue with local authorities, and obviously they include members of al-Shabab. But the bottom line is that we succeeded in getting those supplies in. Our staff were able to go to the airport and secure the materials and get it out to the people that need it."

Somalia is a nation of almost ten million people. It has lacked a strong central government since nineteen ninety-one.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

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Contributing: Gabe Joselow

Somalia Refugees

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