Horn of Africa: The future of an entire generation hangs in the balance

27 August, 2011
Children and adults queue to register for aid in the Ifo refugee camp in Kenya's North Eastern Province near the Somalia border. Credit: UNICEF/Gangale
Children and adults queue to register for aid in the Ifo refugee camp in Kenya's North Eastern Province near the Somalia border. Credit: UNICEF/Gangale

The African Union (AU) hosted an international pledging conference in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, on Thursday to help drought and famine-stricken families across the Horn of Africa. US$350 million, mainly from the African Development Bank (ADB), was pledged to help stem the crisis. 

With 12.4 million people in need across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, the region is facing the most severe food crisis in decades. Somalia is the worst affected country, with an estimated 3.2 million people believed to be on the brink of starvation. Famine has been declared in five regions and is expected to spread further over the coming weeks. 

United nations Deputy Secretary-General, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro - speaking at the conference on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General - warned that “the future of an entire generation hangs in the balance.”

“Communities have been shattered. Mothers and fathers are grieving for their sons and daughters. A generation of orphans is looking for answers - without the guidance of their families - and they will bear the scars of hunger for the rest of their lives,” she said. Mortality rates in young children have reached 13 per 10,000 per day in some areas.

Ms. Migiro added that food insecurity and malnutrition were among many other humanitarian challenges. Public health was a major concern with diseases, such as cholera and measles, threatening to spread throughout the capital, Mogadishu, and beyond. Protection and livelihoods were also highlighted. 

Working to deliver aid despite access restrictions

Aid agencies have been arriving in greater numbers in Mogadishu since Al-Shabaab withdrew over two weeks ago and despite restrictions and security concerns, they are also expanding operations in the rest of Somalia.

Speaking at the conference, United Nations Assistant-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg provided an overview of the response in southern Somalia. She said 1.8 million people were receiving food assistance, 35 per cent of malnourished children were being reached and 400,000 people had been vaccinated.

According to Ms. Migiro access restrictions to southern Somalia continued to hamper aid efforts where the needs were most acute. “We are still not reaching all the people who need help, and the crisis has still not peaked. The cost in human suffering will rise even higher. We must do all we can to stop the acceleration,” she stressed.

Ms. Migiro commended Kenya and Ethiopia - where millions are struggling to cope with the crisis - for welcoming Somali refugees and opening more refugee camps. Since January 2011, 215,000 new Somali refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

Bracing for worse 

Stressing the central role of African countries and local organizations in responding to the crisis, Ms. Migoro said: “We must end this crisis, and we must stop it spreading further. If we do not respond, the consequences will reverberate for years. We will be asked how we stood by and watched a generation die, how we allowed a crisis to become a catastrophe, when we could have stopped it.” 

The international community has so far committed $1.4 billion for the emergency response, but over $1 billion is still urgently needed to scale up assistance and save lives in the Horn of Africa. 

For more details on the crisis in the Horn of Africa click here: http://reliefweb.int/node/442706 

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