Famine declared in Somalia as child malnutrition soars

20 July 2011

by Ed Thornton

CHURCHES will hold special collec­tions this Sunday to raise money for agencies working in the Horn of Africa, where more than ten million people are on the brink of starvation because of drought. The crisis esca­lated this week when the United Nations declared a famine in two areas of Somalia.

The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator, Mark Bowden, said: “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious-disease out­breaks. We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter, and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need.”

The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who announced on Sunday that the Gov­ern­ment would provide £7 million towards UNICEF’s work in East Africa, said: “The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become. It is time for the world to help, but, sadly, the response from many countries has been derisory and dangerously inadequate.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, on Wednesday, the exe­cu­tive director of UNICEF UK, David Bull, said that in parts of southern Somalia there were “at least six deaths per 10,000 children per day”, and that up to 55 per cent of children in some areas suffered from malnutrition. A famine is declared when there are “acute malnutrition rates among children in excess of 30 per cent, and at least four child deaths per 10,000 per day”.

Mr Bull said that the crisis in East Africa had been overshadowed by “all the coverage of phone hacking. . . . We haven’t really been getting the coverage we need to make [it] public and to raise people’s awareness. We are asking people to . . . use social media to spread the word.”

On Wednesday, UNICEF took out full-page advertisements in national newspapers under the headline “Children’s Famine”. The advert said that there were “two emergencies” in East Africa: “One is concentrated in and around the overcrowded camps in Kenya and Ethiopia for refugees from Somalia. The other is silently destroying lives and livelihoods of people living in drought-affected villages across the three countries.”

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price, this week called on churches in his diocese to hold special collections for the crisis during Sunday services this week and next week.

Bishop Price told a diocesan- synod meeting, on Wednesday, that the Bishop of Marsabit, in northern Kenya, the Rt Revd Robert Martin, a former Vicar of Holy Trinity, Frome, had sent him an email saying: “A lorry-load of food (maize, beans and cooking oil) for 100 families for a month costs about £2000. Prices have rocketed, which hits the poorest hardest. . . Animals have died in their thousands. The trouble is that people are so reliant on their livestock that, if they fail, they have no other source of sustenance. In such times, cattle-rustling increases: in the latest incident three days ago, 21 people were killed.”

The Disasters Emergency Com­mit­tee (DEC) announced, on Thurs­day of last week, that donations from the UK public had “topped a mile­stone of £20 million”. The chief executive of the DEC, Brendan Gormley, said, however, that “further funds are urgently needed”.

He said that members of the DEC, which include Christian Aid and Tearfund, “are scaling up their activities, including in south and central Somalia, and desperately need more resources to meet the increasing needs. The situation is continuing to deteriorate, and I urge the public to donate whatever they can today to help us save lives. Every second counts.”

The head of emergencies at Christian Aid, Nick Guttam, wrote on the charity’s website, on Monday, that he had reached Sololo, on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, and was “struck by how few animals we saw. It is clear that many people have not been able to restock after the last major drought and those that did have lost a very high proportion of their herds.”

He said that Christian Aid was “about to begin trucking water to fill tanks for communities in Kenya which have little or no water left. We are also supporting local technicians to make sure that the overstretched boreholes are equipped with spare parts and are kept in good repair. We will also pay people a market rate for their remaining cattle so they do not lose everything and are in a position to restock when the rains return in October.”



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