The United Nations officially declared today that two regions in southern Somalia are suffering from a famine, a word the U.N. does not use lightly. Tens of thousands may already be dead as a result of the famine, which has been brought on by the worst drought in the region in 60 years. Somalia’s ongoing civil war, extreme poverty and lack of infrastructure are also major contributing factors.
As of now, thousands of Somalis — mostly women and children — have already fled to refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, with many more expected in the coming months. But Ethiopia and Kenya are experiencing the effects of the drought themselves. Ethiopia, long remembered as the site of a terrible famine in 1984 — incidentally the last time the U.N. applied the “famine” designation — appealed for $227 million in food aid at the beginning of 2011 and had some 31.6 million undernourished people according to a 2010 U.N. report.
One of the sad ironies of the crisis is that the U.S. recently cut aid to Somalia because its southern region, now hardest hit by the drought, is run by a terrorist organization, Al Shabab. In light of the crisis, the U.S. has announced it will reverse this policy.