Somalia in danger of famine

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Heavy violence, drought, and soaring food prices mean that half of the population of the African country of Somalia is in immediate need of food aid in order to prevent a famine, according to a new study.

Every sixth child under the age of five is acutely malnourished, and three and a quarter million people are in need of immediate aid, a number 77% higher than last year, according to the Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Few aid agencies are able to operate in Somalia, due mainly to the high levels of violence there: almost one hundred ships being seized by pirates in Somali waters this year, and 23 aid workers have been killed in the country, with a further 18 abducted, in 2008 alone. Most international humanitarian staff have been forced to leave the country, and even Somali staff are finding it hard to function.

"The escalating conflict, civil insecurity, and instability in Somalia is now fueling an economic crisis that is beginning to have a wider and more devastating impact on the broader population," said FSAU's chief technical advisor, Cindy Holleman.

Alexandre Liebeskind, The International Red Cross's East African division head, said that this crisis is comparable to the 1992 Somalia famine, in which between 202,000 and 238,000 people died of starvation. The Red Cross has called for the country's borders to be opened, and for its residents to be allowed to cross and flee from the impending disaster.