Update on East African Famine

Early this month, The United Nations confirmed the 6th famine zone in Somalias Bay Region. This now brings the number of Somalis struck by famine to an alarming 4 million people which accounts for more than half the country. The famine has already claimed thousands of lives between Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia. Despite relief efforts, the United Nations reports that 750,000 people are at risk of death over the next 4 months in Somalia.

The relief efforts have positively impacted the Horn according to USAID administrator, Raj Shah and according to him "Even though they are suffering - it's difficult right now - they are not on this dangerous trek to (aid) camps seeking food, because many of these efforts have worked in preventing this famine from taking hold in parts of the Horn." According to Mr. Shah, through inoculation against disease of livestock, communities are less compelled to move to camps to seek refuge.

However, not everyone shares Mr. Shahs view. Recently returned from Somalia, President of Medicins Sans Frontiers , Dr. Unni Karunakara, asserts that the famine stricken areas hit hardest in Somalia, weren't able to get the aid to areas that need it most because of the civil war. While Somalis seeking refuge in Ethiopia and Kenya were being tended to both nutritionally and medically, he was unsure of the possibility to address communities living in the war zones.

This is the worst drought in 60 years, but Dr. Karunakara points out that the absence of a stable government for the past 20 years and militant groups, such as Al Shabaab, are large contributors to the famine. Getting Western aid to areas controlled by the Al Shabab is impossible and hence providing relief efforts to those that are in dire need of it, is very challenging. The situation is further worsened as the Al Qaeda-supporting group is not allowing anyone to leave the region. "They're acting like a form of immigration control and trying to keep people in the country - especially food producers - by cutting peoples hands off who try to leave," says Catherine Bestemen, a Colby College professor who has written extensively on Somalia.

However this week, mediated by U.N representative, Augustine Mahiga, the government will meet in Mogadishu to create a coherent plan of action for the next 12 months. In addition to addressing the drought and famine, they will also need to consider how they will address the coming rain. With the rain "Cholera, malaria and measles could dramatically increase death rates in an already weakened population," said Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-coordinator for Somalia. "Additional support will be required to ensure that we control these risks."

For more updates on the East African famine and to follow Maya Haile's humanitarian trip to Ethiopia, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks) and the hash tag #MayaHaile

Photo: United Nations Photo