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Together with Africa

July 25, 2011

Severe food crisis in East Africa

See the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) website for additional articles on this issue.

East Africa is facing the worst food crisis in 60 years. Across Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya, between 10.7 and 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation.

The United Nations warns that the humanitarian crisis has already degenerated into a famine in the Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool regions of Somalia and that it could get worse. Drought, a major cause of the crisis, is compounded by insecurity, lack of aid and food price inflation.

A famine is declared when at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages with limited ability to cope, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent and crude death rates exceed two deaths per 10,000 people per day.

But, according to IRIN, naming a food crisis a famine does not legally require action in the way that announcing a genocide would, despite the politicization of the term and the gravity of the label.

Recently, the Al Shabab militia, which control parts of Somalia, requested international food assistance. The inability of agencies to work in the region since early 2010 had prevented aid from reaching the very hungry, especially children, contributing to the crisis.

With nearly half of the Somali population - 3.7 million people - in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south, the scale of the crisis is huge.

About 1,300 Somalis are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camps in northeast Kenya every day. The help they are seeking - refuge from a severe drought and the effects of years of conflict - is being handed out as fast as possible. But in a camp complex that has already been stretched well beyond its limits, the new arrivals need more assistance than can be provided.

Outside the camp, the local Kenyan population is not faring much better. A nutrition assessment by Doctors Without Borders showed that the local community was suffering from malnutrition at the same rates as the refugees living in camp outskirts, and people had stopped feeding their animals in order to have enough food for themselves.

Half the people arriving in villages near the camps come from the Kenyan countryside, so they are unable to qualify as refugees and officially obtain the corresponding food and medical aid. A registration expert from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said many Kenyans have attempted to register as refugees to obtain aid. Kenyans just outside the camp have to pay for water, school and medicine while people inside the camps get them for free.

Guided by its agency-wide Emergency Response Team, based in Nairobi, Catholic Relief Services is responding to the crisis in East Africa. Go here to learn more about their work and how you can help.

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