By Stan Luchebeleli in Nairobi
THE international community led by the United Nations has sounded alarm bells over what it has termed as the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years and the most affected is Somalia, a country devastated by civil strife in the last two decades due to political instability since the ouster of strongman and dictator Siad Barre in 1992.
According to UN refugee agency director Antonio Guterrres on a visit to the region, this is the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster”, the Star Newspaper of Nairobi reported today, heralding international calls for rapid intervention from humanitarian agencies in the region led by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
Said Mark Graham, the AFSC Director of Development and External Affairs in a dispatch from, Philadelphia, USA, “An escalating food crisis is taking place in the Horn of Africa, creating a situation where at least 10 million people are in need of emergency relief in the region. United Nations officials are calling this “the worst drought in the area in 60 years.”
Graham said AFSC is working in the Dadaab refugee camp on the Somalia-Kenya border and with local partners inside Somalia to support lasting peace efforts before the food crisis began. “Now, our work is adapting to help people survive the humanitarian crisis”, he said.
According to Graham, the AFSC staff in Somalia staff report that more than 1,000 people are arriving at the Dadaab camp in Kenya daily. “The Horn of Africa is facing the worst food crisis in the world today and Somalia is the hardest hit”, he sounded the alarm bells.
He said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; the combination of drought, conflict, and skyrocketing food prices has created the most acute crisis that Somalis have faced in the past 10 years, as he appealed for urgent humanitarian aid to save the many lives threatened with hunger and starvation.
AFSC, he said, would in the short term be coordinating work with local partners to provide assistance and assess the situation to see how AFSC can best be of service in addressing local needs the many suffering in Somalia were facing.
The UN refugee chief Guterrer, on a visit to the Horn of Africa has described the Somalia refugees the poorest in the world. And the German Chancellor Angela Markel, a state visit to Kenya, has promised his country’s assistance to the refugee problem in Dadaab camp when she held talks with President Mwai Kibaki at his Harambee office on Tuesday (July 12).
“As the number of new arrivals keep increasing and more people keep on coming, we have decided to organize and pool our efforts”, Abdiwali Hussein Mohammed, a member of refugee’s organizing committee was quoted by IRIN reporter at the congested Dadaab camp.
In his passionate appeal to the international community, AFSC has asked well-wishers and donors to help respond to the growing humanitarian crisis to maintain AFSC programs by providing the skills for quality livelihoods and conflict resolution that helps lead to lasting peace in Somalia and in the surrounding region.
The agency has opened a webpage http://www.afsc.org/ for gift donations in its crisis fund for relief and peace building in times of crisis. The agency believes the gifts and donations will help AFSC support Africans and others who are trying to survive the food crisis and the ongoing conflicts in the region.
Kenya is feeling the brunt of the humanitarian crisis as thousands continue to trek into Northern Kenya in droves. Food scarcity and high prices of foodstuffs has seen demonstrations in the streets in Nairobi and Kampala. And although Kenya was forced to close her border with Somalia in 2007 due to insecurity and the influx of refugees, new arrivals have continued unabated.
Anna Crumley-Effinger, the AFSC Director for Africa Advocacy and Education says: “Somalia is the epicenter of the crisis in the region and the acute crisis in Somalia will have a more and more severe impact in the region. Overall number of people in crisis in Somalia is now 2.85 million, which means one in three Somalis are affected”.
She warns that funding available to date for carrying out humanitarian operations is less than half of the amount needed. “Lack of funds for food, nutrition and livelihood interventions is particularly concerning. As of 30 June, food interventions are 66 percent funded, while nutrition and livelihood interventions are respectively 38 and 33 per cent funded. If funding is not made available for humanitarian interventions now, the crisis will deteriorate even further. Funds are needed immediately, or thousands more people will die, she said as AFSC headquarters went into worldwide appeal for humanitarian aid to address the crisis in the horn of Africa.
Anna said UNHCR is reporting an average of 10,000 new Somali refugees arriving in Kenya’s Dadaab camps per month (at least 1,300 per day since 19 June) and 5,000-6,000 arriving at Doolow Ado camp in Ethiopia. As of 26 June, a total of 60,200 Somalis were registered in Kenya this year – a more than 100% increase as compared to the same time in 2010.
Three in five children arriving in refugee camps in Ethiopia from southern Somalia are malnourished while in refugee camps in Kenya, more deaths were recorded amongst Somali children in the therapeutic feeding centres in the first quarter of 2011 than the whole of 2010.
Although AFSC was the first U.S. humanitarian agency to directly work on how to solve local problems bedeviling Somalia in co-operation with other European NGOs since 1980s, the thirst for peace in Somalia has compounded the crisis. Peace has always been elusive, making any successive government in the war-ravaged country unable to embark on an agenda of reconciliation, stability and address insecurity and the spiraling food crisis.
This has made the visiting UN refugee chief to call on the warring troops and other actors in the Somalia political crisis to allow humanitarian aid to flow and be distributed inside the country to avoid the malnourished and the poor having to trek hundreds of kilometers into Kenya to get assistance.