NAIROBI — Famine in parts of southern Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly children, the United Nations said Wednesday in an official declaration of what aid officials describe as the worst humanitarian crisis in the troubled country in two decades.
The famine declaration comes months after U.N. and other aid agencies began sounding the alarm about a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa, where an estimated 10 million people need help. The crisis has been aggravated by civil strife, the lowest rainfall rates in half a century and sharp increases in food prices.
“Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years,” Mark Bowden, the top U.N. official in charge of humanitarian aid to the country, told reporters, adding that $300 million is needed within two months to help alleviate the crisis.
Somalia has grappled with civil war and ineffective governments since 1991, when Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime was toppled. Today, a weak and corrupt transitional government, backed by the United States and its allies, is in place, with little ability to address the famine. Much of its energy is focused on preventing the capital, Mogadishu, from being overtaken by the al-Shabab militia, a group linked to al-Qaeda that seeks to turn the country into an Islamic emirate.
On Wednesday, the United States announced that it would give $28 million in aid to Somalis on top of the more than $431 million in food and other emergency assistance it has provided this year to the eastern Horn of Africa.
But some aid agencies accused the United States and other Western donors of failing to respond to the distress in Somalia quickly enough, despite numerous calls for assistance.
“The crisis has been building for several months, but the response from international donors and regional governments has been mostly slow, inadequate and complacent,” Fran Equiza, the regional director of the British aid agency Oxfam, said in a statement. “There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility to act.”
Equiza said there was still an $800 million shortfall in funding, adding that “by the time the U.N. calls it a famine, it is already a signal of large-scale loss of life.”
In 1992, hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death, prompting a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to intervene. Within months, the force was engaged in an intense operation to uproot Somali warlords. It eventually withdrew after 18 American soldiers were killed in a battle the following year, an incident portrayed in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”
This time, the famine is unfolding in the southern Somali regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, which are largely controlled by al-Shabab. Bowden said that nearly half of Somalia’s 3.7 million people face hunger, malnutrition and other related problems. Of those, 2.8 million live in the south.
“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 diseases,” Bowden said. “We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis.”
Read the full article at washingtonpost.com.