SI calls for urgent action against famine

22 July 2011

More than twelve million people in the Eastern horn of Africa are at risk of severe malnutrition, the UN and international aid agencies have warned.

Long-term drought, rising food prices and protracted conflict in areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan have led to an escalating food crisis which has already claimed more than 10,000 lives across the region.

In Kenya alone, some 1400 people are arriving daily at the country’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in search of food, water and assistance. Similar scenes are being played out in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia and in the border areas between Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The situation has become so severe in recent days that the UN moved this week to declare that famine had been reached in two regions of Somalia; Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Malnutrition has affected more than 50% of the population – with more than 6 children per 10,000 dying each day, the UN says.

It is widely expected that other areas will follow as more information becomes available – with all eight regions of Somalia now facing severe risk of famine if action is not taken swiftly. Taken together, the East African crisis now represents the worst food-related disaster the world has seen for more than 30 years.

In response, international governments have pledged packages of assistance. In recent days, a total of $800 million has been earmarked to help avert what UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called a ‘catastrophic’ crisis back in mid-July.

Nonetheless, humanitarian agencies argue that monies promised amount to less than half of what is needed. In addition, many aid organisations are facing problems of access – and are unable to reach some of the worst affected communities – particularly in areas controlled by rebel groups linked to Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Commenting on the escalating crisis, the Socialist International said: “The scene unfolding in Eastern Africa is a catastrophe of epic proportions. While we welcome the fact that international governments are now pledging funds, we ask why it has taken so long for the people of Eastern Africa to receive the attention and support they so badly need.

“For many months, if not years, we have been warned to expect that such a crisis might unfold in this region. Rising food prices, severe drought and ongoing conflict are simply a recipe for disaster.

“We now need to make sure that, while expediting help to those affected, we take all necessary steps to ensure that famine is eradicated from our world. It has no place in the 21st Century. Our thoughts are with all of our brothers and sisters in the Eastern horn at this time.”