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.
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.
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.