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 it 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.

An estimated 10m people have been affected in east Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. Tens of thousands of desperate Somalis have been trying to flee their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia.

'Rarely used'

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

Definition of Famine

  • 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

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

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.

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

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.

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 September.
Food shortages are affecting up to 12 million people. The UN has declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia, where 30% of children are acutely malnourished and four children out of every 10,000 are dying daily.
The humanitarian problem is made worse by ongoing conflicts, which means that until July militant groups had only allowed aid organisations limited access to large parts of southern Somalia and eastern Ethiopia.
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 370,000 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 may 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 6.7 million people in Kenya and Ethiopia are currently existing on food rations, and relief agencies estimate 2.6 million in Somalia will need assistance a new emergency operation.
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The UN World Food Programme, which is trying to feed 1.5 million people, estimates that as many as one 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, says 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.

"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.

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.

Map detailing areas of food shortages

More on This Story

Horn of Africa drought

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    Comment number 5.

    I am sure we will hear more reports of attrocity.

    Is it not time that the UN sends in a PROPER army to restore order. A military force that is fully capable of defeating the attrocious elements who are so endeically the cause of this, as lack of rainfall is NOT the only factor in this.
    Thing is, no western force is now allowed to do whats necessary to defeat such enemys of human existance

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I am beyond caring about the plight of Africa. I believe all our previous aid and help has only made Africa weaker. Time for Africa to help Africans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    This utimately proves the UN endemically failed to deal with long running attrocity & destruction which disabled so many providing from themselves.

    Yes the lack of rain is devastating but the constant destruction & theft of what little people had by the ravages of al-Shabab & endemic criminality has guaranteed this famine, which is largely endemically man made, order is NEEDED not just food

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Numbers- Two adults or four children must be dying of hunger each day for every group of 10,000 people .

    So, whats it called when same or many many more people are killed each day by guns & knives etc.

    This CANNOT be solved by food donations alone.

    Where can these people go, what land/place can/will sustain/nourish them.

    There is NO place, many will die here, even with aid

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    It is all very sad. However, what support are ME Arab countries giving? Likewise what are BRIC countries doing to support this famine? We never hear anything about this, yet Britain, some other EU countries, and the US often shoulder the lion's share of aid. At the same time, let's hope rain comes soon.


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