About 40,000 famine-hit people have fled to the Somali capital Mogadishu over the past month in search of food and water, the UN refugees agency said yesterday.
“Over the past month, -UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] figures show that nearly 40,000 Somalis displaced by drought and famine have converged on Mogadishu in search of food, water, shelter and other assistance,” said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the commission.
“A further 30,000 have arrived at settlements around Mogadishu. In total, it is estimated that Mogadishu has received up to 100,000 internally displaced people over the last two months. The daily numbers are still around 1,000 in July,” the spokeswoman added.
With relief supplies entering the country currently insufficient to cope with needs, the jostle for food “has caused serious crowd crushes and even some looting,” the UNHCR said.
“As a result, some of the weakest and most vulnerable are left with nothing, despite the best efforts of agencies and charities,” it added.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was set yesterday to start airlifting food to Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya after an emergency meeting in Rome on the drought-stricken Horn of Africa region.
An estimated 3.7 million people in Somalia — about a third of the population — are on the brink of starvation and millions more in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have been struck by the worst drought in the region in 60 years.
WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said her organization would begin food airlifts to Mogadishu, as well as aid flights to Dolo in Ethiopia on the border with Somalia and to Wajir in northern Kenya, which have been badly hit by drought.
The plight of children in Somalia is “the worst I have ever seen,” she said after visiting Mogadishu and the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya over the weekend.
“What we saw is children who are arriving so weak that many of them are in stage four malnutrition and have little chance — less than 40 percent chance — of making it,” Sheeran said.
“The catastrophic situation demands massive and urgent -international aid,” Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told participants at the meeting in Rome.
“It is imperative to stop the famine,” declared by the UN this month in two insurgent-held areas of southern Somalia, Diouf said.
Officials said at Monday’s meeting that the UN has received about US$1 billion since first launching an appeal for the region in November last year, but needs a billion more dollars by the end of the year to cope with the emergency.
The World Bank on Monday pledged more than US$500 million, with the bulk of the money set to go toward long-term projects to aid livestock farmers, while US$12 million would be for immediate assistance to those worst hit by the crisis.
However, charities voiced disappointment at the international response.
“It is shameful that only a few of the richest and powerful economies were willing to demonstrate today their commitment to saving the lives of many of the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam.
French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire called for the creation of a rapid reaction unit within the FAO to respond to food crises, more research into drought-resilient crops and a crackdown on high food prices.
“If we don’t take the necessary measures, famine will be the scandal of this century,” Le Maire said.
He also berated the international community for having “failed” to ensure food security in a world affected by climate change.
Le Maire said the issue would be discussed at “the donor conference in Nairobi in two days’ time.”
UN officials say the drought has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of desperate survivors from the worst-affected areas of Somalia to walk for weeks in search of food and water.
The key challenge for aid groups has been reaching parts of southern Somalia held by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militia group Shebab, which has banned the WFP and other international humanitarian agencies from operating in its territory.
Somali Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Ibrahim called for “humanitarian corridors” to reach the affected areas.
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