‘Long-term’ Needs Grow in Horn of Africa as Drought Shows No Signs of Abating

BY Larisa Epatko  August 25, 2011 at 1:00 PM EDT


People waiting in line for aid at an internally displaced camp in Somalia. Photo by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many in East Africa, still suffering from drought and hunger, are streaming into refugee camps as other countries try to close a $1.1 billion shortfall in needed funding for relief supplies.

The African Union held an aid summit Thursday intended to help famine-ravaged areas in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. So far, African governments have pledged $21 million, and the AU itself has committed $500,000.

Other countries that have pledged funds include the United States — $500 million, the European Union — 158 million euros or $227 million, and China — $55 million.

But the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said a total of $2.48 billion is needed to help 12.4 million people affected by the drought. About $1.3 billion has been raised so far, leaving a gap of about $1.1 billion.

According to the organization, famine conditions are expected to worsen in the region and more people will be seeking help, and the situation is compounded by continued armed conflicts in Somalia. The number of people in urgent need is expected to increase by 25 percent over the next few months, mostly in Somalia, the group said.

“Somalia is the hardest hit for a variety of reasons. Just geographically, it’s being hit by the drought and the famine, but also because after 20 years of conflict it’s the least able to respond,” said Andy Needham, public information officer for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He spoke to us from Nairobi, Kenya, after having visited Somali and Ethiopian camps for internally displaced people.

In Somalia, an estimated 3 million — out of a population of 10 million — are in dire need of assistance, Needham said. “The area that bearing the brunt of the famine is the most underdeveloped and the most ill-equipped to deal with this.”

For example, children in Somali hospitals are dying from dehydration because they have diarrhea, normally an easily treatable illness in developed countries, he said.


Tent camp in Somalia. Photo by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

People fleeing the drought and famine are entering settlement camps that have sprung up spontaneously all over Somalia’s capital Mogadishu with no belongings, said Needham. “They leave when their crops die, their cattle, their goats and cows die, so they have nothing. And if they have any meager possessions, they’ve sold them to try and pay their way along the journey.”

Normally, shelters are made with sticks and cloth, but people have been using anything they can get their hands on, including cardboard boxes, rags and bits of plastic, he said.

Even when collecting water and food, the camp inhabitants have nothing to put them in, so they often use dirty plastic bags — a cause for concern as a possible source for cholera, said Needham. So besides providing plastic sheets for shelters, UNHCR and other aid agencies are distributing basic kitchen kits, including pots, pans, plates and cutlery, he said.

Although Somalia is the worst-affected country, there are drought conditions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and parts of Uganda, he added. (A U.N. World Food Program map shows the region’s level of famine in shades of brown and the location of internally displaced camps marked by blue triangles.)

The needs are large and long-lasting, said Needham. “All indications are more regions of Somalia will be declared as being in famine over the next weeks and months,” and food crisis conditions could last beyond that as harvests are missed, he said.

Resource: East Africa Famine — How to Help

View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.