Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

East African hunger crisis is worsening, say aid agencies

AP , NAIROBI

The UN reported on Tuesday that the hunger crisis in Somalia was worsening, while the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would step up relief efforts in Somalia and Ethiopia.

In the latest report on Somalia, the UN said that 1.7 million people -- 710,000 of them experiencing an acute food shortage -- needed food assistance of some kind in addition to the 410,000 refugees who depend on food aid.

"The already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia has been further aggravated by the worst drought in a decade," the report said. "Humanitarian needs have soared in the most unpredictable and insecure areas of Somalia meaning access will continue to be a preoccupation."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew the government and divided the country into several rival, clan-based fiefdoms.

The drought has tipped the balance in many highly impoverished border areas where Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya meet. The UN says more than 11.5 million people will require food assistance in the next six months.

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization reported on Tuesday that the drought was expected to continue, meaning that some areas of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya may go 14 months without rain.

"Several of the worst affected areas in [the Greater Horn of Africa] have recorded their driest months since 1961," the report said.

The Red Cross said on Tuesday it would step up operations in Ethiopia, but that it was especially concerned about Somalia.

"It has been reported that there is such competition for water in some of the worst drought affected areas that children have been wounded by animals fighting them for water at wells," the group said in a statement.

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