Biggest ever aid campaigns to tackle ‘creeping disaster'

Aid agencies have launched multimillion-pound appeals to address a mounting humanitarian emergency in east Africa, where severe drought and high food prices have left 10 million people requiring assistance.

Two successive failed rainy seasons in 12 months have led to the driest year since 1951 in some regions of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda. Hunger levels have jumped sharply, with rates of severe malnutrition rising as high as five times the emergency threshold. The drought has also decimated livestock, while cereal prices have soared.

Food aid

Oxfam has launched its biggest ever appeal for Africa, seeking £50 million to help three million people. Christian Aid has also launched an appeal, while Save the Children will do so later on Tuesday. The British government announced on Sunday that it was giving £38 million in emergency food aid to Ethiopia, following a warning from Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, that “desperate hunger” loomed across the Horn.

The latest “creeping disaster”, as the WFP calls it, threatens to eclipse other recent food emergencies in the region. “This has all the makings of a really severe drought,” said Stephen Gwynne-Vaughan, CARE's director in Kenya.

The short rains late last year were some of the worst on record according to the U.N. humanitarian agency, OCHA, while the long rains of April and May started late and were less than a third of the normal volume in some places. For Somali refugees arriving in neighbouring Ethiopia, rates of severe malnutrition are as high as 23 per cent, according to Oxfam. A 4 per cent incidence normally constitutes an emergency.

Alun McDonald, spokesman for Oxfam in Nairobi, said the figures were the worst the agency had seen since the early 90s. At least 500 people are believed to have died in Somalia over the past few months of nutrition-related illnesses, he said.

“We are not yet at a stage where large numbers of people are dying. But things could get worse in the coming months as the next rains are due in October.” Up to 1,000 Somalis a day are also streaming across the Kenyan border to Dadaab, already the largest refugee settlement in the world, with 367,000 residents. Some 2.5 million people require food aid in Somalia, but access is tough, particularly in the south, where an Islamist insurgency has made it hard for aid groups to operate. To the west, in Ethiopia, 3.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Pastoralist communities there have seen 80 per cent of their livestock die in some places, according to Oxfam.

Marginalisation

In Uganda 600,000 people need assistance, and in Djibouti 120,000. But the greatest number of people in need, 3.5 million, are in Kenya's arid northern regions, whose marginalisation by the government has magnified the effects of the increasingly frequent droughts. In Turkana, malnutrition rates are more than twice the emergency level. More than half the 10 million people requiring assistance are children. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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