Georgieva wants access to famine-stricken Somalia

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On a visit to Kenya yesterday (25 July), Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva deplored the limited access of humanitarian workers to famine-stricken Somalia, which is creating a huge refugee problem in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Georgieva visited the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, which is the biggest in the world and houses more than 400,000 internally displaced persons. The camp was originally built for 90,000 people.

Every day, over 3,000 Somalis flee across their country's borders to seek food and security in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Islamists groups in Somalia, especially the Al Shabbab anti-government militia, deny aid workers access to the country (see 'Background'). Only the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Red Cross and Islamic Relief have not been banned from working inside Somalia, which means the EU has to rely on those organisations to provide aid inside the country.

"We can get aid into the famine zones and we can also make it possible for many more places in Somalia to be provided with food, water, medical support, so internally displaced persons would not need to cross all the way into Ethiopia or Kenya, creating a bigger refugee problem in the future," Georgieva said.

Human tragedy

TV footage released worldwide has shown appalling scenes of Somali mothers abandoning their dying children by the roadside as they travel to overwhelmed emergency food centres.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), told a conference in Rome yesterday (25 July) that a combination of natural disaster and regional conflict was affecting more than 12 million people.

The WFP has said it cannot reach more than two million Somalis facing starvation in areas controlled by Islamist militants, who imposed a food aid ban in 2010 and have regularly threatened relief groups.

"We are seeing all the points able to distribute food completely overwhelmed," Sheeran said, quoted by Reuters.

"We want to make sure the supplies are there along the road because some of them are becoming roads of death where mothers are having to abandon their children who are too weak to make it or who have died along the way," she added.

Women and children were among the most at risk in the crisis, Sheeran said, calling the crisis the "children's famine" given the number of children at risk of death or permanent stunting of their brains and bodies due to hunger.

The WFP will feed 2.5 million malnourished children and is trying to raise money for more, she said.

Slow response?

Ministers and senior officials met at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome on Monday to discuss how to mobilise aid following the worst drought in decades in a region stretching from Somalia to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

The WFP said it urgently needed an extra $360 million in funding. Oxfam said that another $1 billion was needed to handle the situation overall.

The World Bank said in a statement that it was providing more than $500 million to assist drought victims, in addition to $12 million in immediate aid to help those worst hit.

Governments worldwide and the UN have been criticised for their slow response to the severe drought, but they face major problems getting aid to a region gripped by a conflict raging across much of southern Somalia.

Speaking at the Rome meeting, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said: "The combined forces of drought, inflation and conflict have created a catastrophic situation that urgently requires massive international support. If we want to avoid future famine and food insecurity crises in the region, countries and the international community urgently need to bolster the agricultural sector and accelerate investments in rural development."

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said: "This crisis highlights the need for urgent implementation of the action plan on food price volatility and agriculture adopted by G20 agriculture ministers on 23 June in Paris, notably regarding international policy coordination, agricultural production and productivity and targeted emergency humanitarian food reserves."

The president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Kanayo F. Nwanze, said: "Building resilience of farming and herding communities in the Horn of Africa and the world over requires a long-term commitment. But time — as we can see from the devastating situation in the Horn of Africa — is running out. Increased investment in sustainable agriculture needs to happen now, so that when the next drought comes, wherever in the world, there will be less suffering, less desperation. Even if the rains fail, we cannot."

Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said: "Lives in East Africa hang in balance, now, today. World leaders have no excuses for not generously responding. There can be no problem more pressing, more acute, more urgent than millions of people staring at the spectre of starvation in this part of Africa. This should not be happening."

"It is a colossal outrage that the warnings went unheeded, that the lessons of previous famines have been ignored. Yes, we need to save lives today but we also need to ensure that people have a future. Above all we need to build a global food system that allows everyone enough to eat," Stocking added.

The European Parliament's Greens/EFA group issued a statement calling on the EU to urgently mobilise emergency humanitarian aid for the region.

Green development spokesperson Ska Keller said: "The situation in Somalia and the surrounding region has deteriorated dramatically in the past few days and the EU cannot continue to sit on its hands and remain an idle observer. Current EU humanitarian aid for the refugee camps in Kenya and to the wider region is a drop in the ocean. The EU urgently needs to deliver an emergency relief response of sufficient scale to respond to the crisis, while member states must also step up their aid."

Green security spokesperson Reinhard Bütikofer blasted what he called the continued absence of a coherent EU strategy for the Horn of Africa and the lack of coordination between the military effort and the humanitarian action.

"In stark contrast to the total lack of funding for EU humanitarian aid, there remains significant financial support for military action. The EU's two military programs for Somalia - ATALANTA and EUTM - amount to around €1.5 billion per year," the MEP said.

"Furthermore, with these military measures the EU must side with the fully incompetent and corrupt transitional government, which means that EU humanitarian aid providers, in particular those with access to the famine-stricken provinces of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, are left denied. Those regions are controlled by the Islamist militia Al Shabab-Miliz, which is in open conflict with the transitional government," he stated.

The Horn of Africa has been suffering from protracted drought, with high food prices and dwindling resources. Eleven million people are now affected by the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But the situation has been aggravated by years of political conflict in southern Somalia, preventing aid agencies from helping communities in the area. Nearly 135,000 Somalis have fled since January, mainly to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

The Horn of Africa now finds itself facing a double emergency with the drought and the displacement of people: currently 800,000 people are refugees, with half of them now concentrated at Dadaab. 1.5 million people have been internally displaced.

The funding envisaged by the European Commission to support the humanitarian disaster in the region totals €157.47 million. Currently, total EU aid (Commission and member states) stands at more than €207 million, and a number of member states have made announcements of further funding. EU citizens are also being asked to contribute to fundraising campaigns organised by UNICEF and other organisations.

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