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Ethiopians starve as more Somali refugees arrive

The Horn of Africa’s food crisis has spotlighted Somalia and Kenya.

But as it struggles to cope with tens of thousands of famine refugees, millions of  people in Ethiopia are starving.

About 118,000 Somali refugees are now seeking aid in camps in Ethiopia’s Liben region.

Nearly half arrived in the country’s south east, where it borders with Somalia, in the last two months, fleeing drought, famine and war.

The number of people descending has overstretched the Liben camps, which were originally built to shelter 45,000 people.

Soaring malnutrition is making things worse. Many children were already malnourished when they left Somalia, and during the long walk to cross the border — for some, it took as long as 20 days — their health has gone further downhill.

Ethiopia’s new arrivals are mostly women and children; a lot of them are so weak they die when they get there.

But unlike in Kenya, which at first could cope with its refugees, although it has since been overstretched for months, Ethiopia was unprepared to handle the influx.

At the start of March there were 38,000 refugees living in two camps. And now, the two original camps are at double their capacity, housing 40,000 each. It took three weeks to fill a third camp with more than 24,000 people, and now a fourth has been set up for the 15,000 or so arriving from a makeshift centre near the border.

"There was a much lower service provision in Ethiopia than Kenya,” said the UN’s Kristen Knutson. “There wasn't much infrastructure in place; then suddenly you had this enormous increase in the number of refugees coming," she told the Independent on Sunday.

As well as bad roads, the Ethiopian government has also stood in the way of foreign charities getting aid through to the people who need it. Aid agencies that have revealed the true extent of hunger in the region have been thrown out.

But this year, perhaps a signal of how serious the situation has become, the government is making it easier for aid agencies to work there.

"We see the reality as it is," said Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's Minister of Communication. “There are 4.5 million in need of aid. We have been trying to respond promptly, as well as the international community, but we are aware response has been largely inadequate," he admitted.

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