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Crisis in Somalia

Around half a million children could die in the Horn of Africa, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The severe drought affecting Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia is at an emergency level and local media are calling the area “the triangle of death”. Over 50 million pounds in aid has been pledged by the British government to help at least a million people. However more will be needed as the executive director of UNICEF warns the “crisis is likely to deepen over the coming six months or so”.

Though pastoral and village communities across parts of Ethiopia and Kenya have been badly hit by the drought, the situation in southern and central Somalia is far worse. Over 3,000 Somali refugees are believed to be crossing the borders into Kenya and Ethiopia every day. Many bring with them children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In some areas of Somalia, four-fifths of livestock has died and wells have turned saline.

Desperate Somalis have been heading to the capital Mogadishu, where SOS Children has set up an Emergency Relief Programme. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that over 9,000 people arrived in Mogadishu last month, having fled their homes in central and southern Somalia. In one camp, run by the African Union peacekeeping mission, doctors are fighting an outbreak of measles, since many children have not been vaccinated against the disease. IRIN reported the head of the camp as saying “the need is great and we can only make small emergency interventions”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that 1 in 10 children could die in drought-hit areas of Somalia. According to the charity, malnutrition rates among children in Somalia are already the highest in the world. Even in areas which traditionally produce much of Somalia’s food, such as the Bay and Lower Shabelle regions, over 10 per of under-fives are showing signs of severe acute malnutrition. These findings were being reported by clinics and feeding centres run by the Somali Red Crescent. Ten new feeding centres have recently been opened by the ICRC to try and deal with the growing crisis.

Central and southern areas of Somalia are currently controlled by al Shabaab rebels. The Islamist group previously stopped outside organisations from operating in their region but has recently lifted the ban on foreign food aid. This week, the United Nations began airlifting supplies into rebel-held areas, with UNICEF landing a shipment of food and medicine into the city of Baidoa. Early reports suggest the rebels are letting UN workers go about their business and distribute supplies. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), which operates in Mogadishu and northern Somalia, is therefore debating whether to restart programmes in rebel-controlled areas. 

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