This week, the United Nations declared a state of famine in parts of Somalia. More than 3.5 million people — nearly half of Somalia’s population — are at risk of starvation because of the worst drought in decades. Over the past two months, roughly 80,000 Somalis have poured out of their country, creating a refugee crisis in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. The UN has stated that tens of thousands of Somalis have already died, most of them children. Experts warn that the situation is similar to that of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, which left one million dead.
And getting help to those who haven’t left Somalia has been complicated by politics. Some of the hardest hit areas are controlled by Al Shabaab, the Islamist militant group with ties to Al Qaeda. For its part, the United States has already committed $431 million in food and emergency assistance, and this week pledged to send more, but is asking for assurances that the money will not benefit Al Shabaab.
To learn more, we spoke with Adrian Ewards of the U.N.’s Refugee Commission. We caught up with him in Geneva after he returned from visiting Somali refugees in Ethiopian and Kenyan camps.