Somalia Facing World's Worst Famine in 20 Years
- Wednesday, July 20, 2011 3:49 PM
NAIROBI, Kenya â€” Tens of thousands of Somalis are feared dead in the world's worst famine in a generation, the U.N. said Wednesday, and the U.S. said it will allow emergency funds to be spent in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants as long as the fighters do not interfere with aid distributions.
Exhausted, rail-thin women are stumbling into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia with dead babies and bleeding feet, having left weaker family members behind along the way.
"Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years," said Mark Bowden, the U.N.'s top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. "This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives â€¦ it's likely that conditions will deteriorate further in six months."
The crisis is the worst since 1991-92, when hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death, Bowden said. That famine prompted intervention by an international peacekeeping force, but it eventually pulled out after two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in 1993.
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Since then, Western nations have mainly sought to contain the threat of terrorism from Somalia â€” an anarchic nation where the weak government battles Islamic militants on land and pirates hijack ships for millions of dollars at sea.
Oxfam said $1 billion is needed for famine relief. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced an additional $28 million in emergency funding on top of the $431 million in assistance already given this year. Most importantly, as long as the Islamists don't interfere with aid distributions, those new U.S. funds aren't restricted under rules implemented in 2009 that are designed to keep food and money from being stolen by the insurgency.
"If (the insurgents) are willing to allow access we are willing to stand fully with the humanitarian actors," said Dr. Raj Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Aid groups have repeatedly called for the restrictions to be lifted and say the rules severely limited their operations in the past two years. U.S. humanitarian contributions in Somalia fell from $237 million in 2008 to $29 million last year.
"We've seen a very large shortfall over the past few years given the political restrictions attached to humanitarian funding," said Tanja Schumer of the Somalia NGO Consortium, which represents 78 aid agencies working on Somalia. "To get American money we have to vouch for all our contractors and all our local partners and that is tricky."
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, blamed al-Shabab for exacerbating the crisis.
"The reason the aid hasn't gone in sufficient quantities into south and central Somalia is because al-Shabab has prevented those capable of delivering large quantities of aid from having access â€” and when they have had access they've taxed them, harassed them, killed them, kidnapped them," Rice told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
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