UN steps up aid to victims of drought in Somalia

By United Nations
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The United Nations refugee agency said today that with the increasing gravity of the situation in Somalia, where hundreds of thousands of people are suffering because of drought and conflict, it was stepping up assistance with aid distributions across the country's central and southern parts.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva that “although access remains a serious impediment, working with partners on the ground in Somalia we have so far distributed assistance packages to some 90,000 people in Mogadishu and Belet Hawa and Dobley in southwest Somalia.”

The agency is handing out non-food aid for an estimated 126,000 people in other parts of the Gedo and Lower Juba region to the west, with assistance also on its way to Mogadishu and the Afgooye corridor just west of Mogadishu, as well as further southwest in the Lower Shabelle area, Mr. Edwards said.

The agency is strengthening its mechanisms for tracking population movement and protection monitoring in the corridors leading to the Dolo Ado and Dadaab refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively.

“Our aim is that through shorter interval reporting we'll be better able to inform emergency interventions,” Mr. Edwards said. “UNHCR is the primary provider of this information to UN agencies and NGOs operating in Somalia.”

“Given the very serious health state of many refugees arriving at camps in neighbouring countries, UNHCR believes it is of life-saving importance that people in Somalia are able to get help where they need it,” he said. “This may, in certain circumstances, mitigate the necessity to cross borders into neighbouring countries, where refugee camps were already bursting at the seams.”

UNHCR continues to look at all means to step up its efforts inside the country, he said.

Paul Spiegel, the chief of public health at UNHCR, said that the situation in Dolo Ado camp was “very dire,” and he had been taken aback by what he had seen there.

Mr. Spiegel said a third camp, added to two already existing camps, had recently opened but it was already full.

The third camp, at Kobe, where the new arrivals have been placed, has seen a mortality rate of 7.4 deaths per 10,000 people per day in June, he said. The baseline for sub-Saharan Africa was a rate of 0.5 deaths and an emergency was generally declared when the rate reached one death per 10,000.

The preponderance of the deaths was among children under the age of five. The rates of malnutrition, one of the major causes of death, were extremely high, Mr. Spiegel said. The severe malnutrition rate had been 26.8 per cent in June, which he said was “an extremely rare and very high finding.”

A camp for another 60,000 people will be opened in the next two or three days, Mr. Spiegel said, adding that the Ethiopian Government had found another site for when that camp will be full.

Raouf Mazou, UNHCR'S deputy regional director, said there is “definitely not enough resources to respond to the needs.”

He said an appeal for about $136 million had been issued last week, but so far only about 17 per cent of what was required was available.

Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the agency was leaving for the region today, first visiting Ethiopia before proceeding to Kenya and Somalia.