Horn of Africa drought: Somalia aid supplies boosted

Somali drought refugees camp among the ruins of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu
Image caption Thousands now camp amid the ruins of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu

An Islamic aid agency has started distributing aid in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, following the lifting of a ban on aid work by al-Shabab militants.

Two decades of conflict mean Somalia is the country worst affected by the Horn of Africa drought.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) gave out dried food such as maize to some of the thousands of people who have fled to the capital recently.

An OIC official urged other aid groups to resume work in Somalia.

Some 10 million people are said to be affected by the Horn of Africa's worst drought in 60 years.

An estimated 3,000 people a day are arriving from Somalia in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia seeking assistance.

UN envoy to Somalia Mark Bowden has also arrived in Mogadishu to assess the humanitarian situation and discuss how the UN can help.

At the weekend, UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres urged aid agencies to go into Somalia to help drought victims, if obstacles of security can be overcome.

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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"People are suffering. We need to take action immediately to save the Somali people," the OIC's Ahmed Mohamed Aden told the BBC.

The Saudi-based group has so far distributed aid in government-controlled areas of Mogadishu but it has also sent assessment teams to areas where al-Shabab is in charge.

The al-Qaeda linked group controls much of southern and central Somalia.

The BBC's Mohamed Moalimuu in Mogadishu says that al-Shabab prefers Islamic aid groups, even though it has said it will treat all aid agencies equally during the current crisis.

Mr Aden admitted that his staff were taking a risk by operating in Somalia but said it was worth taking because of the desperate need.

"We have moved to many areas freely. I encourage other aid groups to come and join us."

Most foreign aid agencies withdrew from Somalia after al-Shabab banned them in 2009.

A few groups have managed to continue operating despite the ban.

Aid workers have been kidnapped and their supplies looted during the years of anarchy since Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

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