LIBOI, Kenya, July 29 - The whole of drought- and conflict-wracked southern Somalia is heading into famine as the Horn of Africa food crisis deepens, the United Nations said on Friday.
In a report for countries sending aid, the U.N.’s umbrella humanitarian agency OCHA said the “crisis in southern Somalia is expected to continue to worsen through 2011, with all areas of the south slipping into famine”.
Appealing for a further $1.4 billion “to provide life-saving assistance to more than 12 million people” across the four countries of the Horn, OCHA said the overall emergency was likely to continue growing for at least 3-4 months.
In Kenya’s eastern frontier town of Liboi, less than 20 km (13 miles) from the border with Somalia, a hot wind kicked up clouds of dust from the barren soil by the town’s water point.
Thwacking his thirsty camel, Daudi Yusuf waited patiently as Somali troops from Dhobley, a town hotly fought over by Islamist militants and government forces earlier this year, replenished their water supplies.
Yusuf, from Wajir, several days walk away, said he’d been on the move for two months, seeking out the scantest vegetation for his livestock. With no rain in four years, this was the worst drought of his lifetime, he said.
With the media’s attention focused on the famine in Somalia, Yusuf said neighbouring regions were being forgotten.
“We’re equally affected here. We feel neglected. People are passing us over, leaving us in the dust,” said Yusuf, but he felt no resentment towards the Somalis fleeing the drought.
“A needy person is a needy person, whether they’re from here or across the border.”
Liboi residents said more refugees had been flowing through Liboi in the past month than they had ever seen since a refugee camp 80 km (50 miles) away in Dadaab opened in 1991 — but that the numbers appeared to be falling.
The U.N. declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia — where 3.7 million people are going hungry — on July 20. There is always a steady trickle of Somalis coming into northern Kenya, mostly fleeing violence, but in recent months they have also been looking for food.
The situation was severe right across the Horn, in Somalia, northern Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, OCHA said. Food shortages were expected to reach crisis levels in refugee areas in August and September, according to the report.
“The areas of highest concern for the coming six months have been identified as southern and central Somalia, the north, south and east of Ethiopia, north-eastern and south-eastern Kenya, and the refugee camps in Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.”
The report said the situation in the worst affected areas of Ethiopia and Kenya was expected to ease from emergency to crisis levels towards the end of this year.
But the deterioration in southern Somalia was likely “given the very high levels of both severe malnutrition and under-five mortality in combination with worsening pastoral conditions, a continued increase in local cereal prices, and a below-average harvest”.
The crisis was intensified, it said, by fighting in Somalia — much of which is controlled by Islamist al-Shabaab militias who have been preventing some aid agencies bringing in supplies.
“If access for humanitarian aid and workers to worst-affected areas of Somalia does not improve, continued flows of refugees to the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders can be expected,” OCHA said.