UN declares Somalia famine in Bakool and Lower Shabelle

A young boy rests on a hospital bed in a paediatric ward adjacent to the Ifo refugee camp which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 19, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya An estimated 10 million people have been affected by the drought in east Africa

The United Nations has declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia as the region suffers the worst drought in more than half a century.

The UN said the humanitarian situation in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had deteriorated rapidly.

It is the first time that the country has seen famine in 19 years.

Meanwhile, the UN and US have said aid agencies need further safety guarantees from armed groups in Somalia to allow staff to reach those in need.

Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group which controls large swathes of south and central Somalia, had imposed a ban on foreign aid agencies in its territories in 2009, but has recently allowed limited access.

Definition of Famine

A woman gives her child some water at a drought camp in the Somali capital, Mogadishu
  • More than 30% of children must be suffering from acute malnutrition
  • Two adults or four children must be dying of hunger each day for every group of 10,000 people
  • The population must have access to far below 2,100 kilocalories of food per day

An estimated 10 million people have been affected in East Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. More than 166,000 desperate Somalis are estimated to have fled their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia.

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said $300m (£186m) was needed to address the famine in the next two months.

The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, said the response by many European and developed countries to the crisis in the Horn of Africa had been "derisory and dangerously inadequate".

"The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become. It is time for the world to help," he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Washington would provide an extra $28m in emergency aid to counter the famine.

She said the US had already provided $431m this year in emergency aid to the Horn of Africa, but that was "not enough".

Rare use

At the scene

More than 4,000 people are crammed in Safety - the name of the camp the Somali government has set up in Mogadishu for drought victims. Families have built their own homes at the camp with tree branches, wood and plastic sheets. There are no beds, people sleep on the floor. Some children look like skeletons while others have swollen legs and hands.

I met a woman - Amina - who came from around Sakow city in central Somalia. She managed to get a lift on a lorry, but walked the last 50km. She carried her one-and-a-half-year-old son on her back - only to realise, when she arrived, that he was dead.

Several aid agencies, including the UN refugee agency and the UK's Muslim Aid, are working at the camp. But Mogadishu's residents have also opened their hearts. They drop off water and food - cooked and uncooked. Local doctors also run a health post, referring the most critical cases to Mogadishu's poorly resourced hospital.

The weather has been cruel to those at the camp. There were heavy rains earlier this week, washing away many makeshift homes. They have been rebuilding them and hoping it will rain in the famine-affected area.

Drought, conflict and poverty have now combined to produce the necessary conditions for famine.

Those conditions include more than 30% of children being acutely malnourished, and four children out of every 10,000 dying daily.

"Across the country nearly half of the Somali population - 3.7 million people - are now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south," said a statement by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia.

It said that the ongoing conflict had made it extremely difficult for agencies to access communities in the south, which are controlled by al-Shabab.

"If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks," Mr Bowden warned.

Save the Children's Sonia Zambakides told the BBC the situation in Somalia was shocking.

"I was talking to mothers with children, the children looked maybe nine months to one year old - the mothers were telling the children were three and four years old, so they are absolutely tiny."

She said some of the mothers had walked up to six days with no food to try to find help.

Mark Bowden: "It is likely that conditions will deteriorate further in the next month"

The BBC's Mohamed Mwalimu in Mogadishu, says he met a woman called Habiba at a camp set up for the drought victims in the capital who had walked 200km (125 miles) from her village near Buurhakaba city in south-west Somalia.

Her five children were with her, but the youngest ones - aged two years and five years - died on the way.

She said she abandoned their bodies along the roadside because she was too weak to dig graves.

The BBC's Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says the emotive word "famine" is used rarely and carefully by humanitarian organisations, and it is the first time since 1992 that the word has been applied to a situation in Somalia.

Militia talks

Meanwhile, the UN is calling for unhindered access to affected areas, saying that the security situation is hampering humanitarian efforts.

Extended drought is causing a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Weather conditions over the Pacific means the rains have failed for two seasons and are unlikely to return until October.
An estimated 12 million people in the region are affected by the drought. The UN has declared a famine in six areas of southern Somalia, where it says 750,000 people could die in the coming months in the absence of adequate response.
The humanitarian problem is made worse by conflicts. Militants had lifted a ban on aid agencies operating in parts of southern Somalia, but have since accused Western groups of exaggerating the scale of the crisis and again limited access.
Since the beginning of 2011, around 15,000 Somalis each month have fled into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food and water. The refugee camp at Dadaab, in Kenya, has been overwhelmed by more than 420,000 people.
Farmers unable to meet their basic food costs are abandoning their herds. High cereal and fuel prices had already forced them to sell many animals before the drought and their smaller herds are now unprofitable or dying.
The refugee problem may have been preventable. However, violent conflict in the region has deterred international investment in long-term development programmes, which could have reduced the effects of the drought.
Development aid would focus on reducing deforestation, topsoil erosion and overgrazing and improving water conservation. New roads and infrastructure for markets would help farmers increase their profits.
The result of climate conditions, conflict and lack of investment is that millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are currently existing on food rations in what is said to be East Africa's worst drought for 60 years.
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Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, told reporters that the situation for aid workers in Somalia is "not what we want it to be".

"We do have a very minimal presence, and we have regular visits into the country, but we need significantly better access than we have at the moment to address an emergency of this scale," he said, speaking from Geneva.

The UN World Food Programme, which is trying to feed 1.5 million people, estimates that as many as a million people are in areas it cannot currently access.

"Once we have the assurances of security and the ability to have full access to deliver and distribute and monitor, then we will be prepared to go back in," Emilia Casella, a spokeswoman for the WFP, told the Associated Press news agency.

Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the US was assessing if they were seeing "real change" from al-Shabab, or whether the group planned to impose some kind of "taxation" on aid deliveries.

"Al-Shabab's activities have clearly made the current situation much worse," Mr Carson said.

DEC appeal: East Africa drought

  • The Disasters Emergency Committee is an umbrella organisation in the UK representing a number of aid agencies
  • To make a donation in the UK call 0370 60 60 900 (charged at national rate) or visit the website www.dec.org.uk

"We call on all of those in south-central Somalia who have it within their authority to allow refugee groups and organisations to operate there to do so," he said.

Mr Bowden said discussions with al-Shabab about the safe distribution of food aid were taking place at a local level, and that responses were expected to differ depending on the locality.

In a separate development, Amnesty International says children in Somalia are being systematically recruited as child soldiers by militant groups such as al-Shabab.

Drawing on interviews from more than 200 Somalis who have fled their country, the rights group says some of those recruited are as young as eight years old.

The report says al-Shabab lures children with promises of money and mobile phones, but also carries out abductions.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    The international community has systematically failed the people of Somalia. When an opportunity arose to support a moderate Islamic government, the UIC, it was rejected. Instead the West supported a futile invasion by Ethiopia - that's what brought Al-Shabab to power, with devastating consequences. Let's now forget politics, and if we can't show remorse at least show some pity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    We all help Africa in a way.Some of us doing charity work or sending money to organisations that do this work for us.Some of us supporting our governments in supplying money,guns or mobile phones, that go to militant groups such as al-Shabab.I will send my money to an organisation hoping it will help the starving children and people. Every "little" help counts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    In cases like drought and famine, the UN, the local government(s) and charitable organizations should work together to create large greenhouses in various parts of the country and produce food and distribute the produce locally. They should work together to establish water treatment plants to remove salinity of water from the ocean and distribute water locally. Drought is an annual event.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Instead of pushing loads of money at Somalia, they should stop the war and get all the blokes/men back and make channels for water to flow through. Allow trucks full of water to enter the places where it is most needed. Get piping into the country and get the water flowing, end the the money going to the guns, spend this money on the starving people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Spend on money on REAL problems like Somalia. Stop wasting billions on phantom enemies in Afghanistan or traying to change other country`s govenments just to suit UK/USA billionairee interests (No one benefits from it anyway in UK as most of the billionaires avoid paying taxes). So in simple terms, Send in troops to help people instead of sending them in to kill people. Try for a civilised future?


Comments 5 of 11


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