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Expanded Area of Eastern Africa Is Beset with Famine
August 5, 2011

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer
04 August 2011

Washington — Famine has reached new areas of Somalia, according to an August 3 analysis of conditions in the region, and food insecurity in other parts of the eastern African country will likely reach famine levels within the next six weeks.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is issuing regular updates on the Horn of Africa humanitarian crisis, providing a broad overview of the conditions and the international response. The analysis finds that the threshold for famine has been surpassed in Balcad and Cadale in the Middle Shabelle region, in a settlement of internally displaced persons in the Afgoye Corridor, and in makeshift settlements of displaced people in parts of Mogadishu.

“The rest of southern Somalia is suffering severe food insecurity and is also likely to reach famine levels within the next six weeks, despite the mounting relief efforts,” according to the OCHA situation report.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working closely with OCHA in the relief effort. Nancy Lindborg, USAID’s assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance, describes the situation in Somalia as stark.

“A famine determination is never made lightly and reflects the truly dire circumstances facing the people of southern Somalia,” said Lindborg in prepared testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 3. “Based on nutrition and mortality surveys verified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], we estimate that more than 29,000 children under 5 — nearly 4 percent of children — have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia.”

The OCHA report finds that only 20 percent of the 2.8 million people in urgent need of food aid in southern Somalia are being reached. Difficulty in getting food where it is most needed — the access problem — exists, officials say, because of the U.S.-designated terrorist organization al-Shabaab. Threats from the group led U.N. organizations to pull back from assistance programs in certain parts of Somalia early this year. The group continues to block aid deliveries, said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto.

“Those most seriously affected by the current drought are the more than 2 million Somalis trapped in al-Shabaab–controlled areas in south central Somalia,” Yamamoto said at the Senate hearing, appearing on a panel with Lindborg. “As we seek to take advantage of any current openings to expand aid distribution, we are also working with our partners in the international community to counter al-Shabaab’s ability to threaten our interests or continue to hold the Somali people hostage.”

U.S. officials have previously stated that poor policy and governance decisions made by al-Shabaab have worsened the human toll of this disaster, brought on by drought conditions and crop failures. The group has denied the existence of severe food shortages.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which provides data influencing OCHA and U.S. aid agencies’ decisions, “Famine exists when at least 20 percent of the population has extremely limited access to basic food requirements, global acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent, and the death rate exceeds [two persons per 10,000 people per day] for the entire population.”

Up to 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are expected to be affected by this humanitarian disaster. The United States has provided almost $460 million to the overall relief effort. OCHA estimates that more than $1 billion will be necessary to address all the needs.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)