14 Jul 2011

Fears of ‘death on an epic scale’ in Somalia crisis

An aid worker in Somalia, the centre of the East Africa drought crisis which has hit 12m people, tells Channel 4 News he fears “death on an epic, unimaginable scale” if more is not done.

East Africa drought crisis is 'unimaginable' catastrophe (Getty)

Jens Opperman, the head of charity Action Against Hunger in Somalia, said the situation is deterioriating and will continue to do so unless there is a significant increase in international support.

“We are witnessing unimaginable human suffering,” he told Channel 4 News.

The Horn of Africa’s worst drought in 60 years has hit people across Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. It has caused perhaps the most serious emergency in Somalia, where hundreds of thousands have become displaced as they desperately seek food and water.

We are witnessing unimaginable human suffering. Jens Opperman, Action Against Hunger

Mr Opperman estimated that 2.8m people in Somalia are in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance. He estimated that one in three children is currently on the brink of starvation.

He said aid workers in refugee camps around the region are struggling to help the vast numbers who need aid.

“Somali children and families arrive completely mentally and physically exhausted, severely ill, injured. Often they have carried people for weeks without food. And aid workers are increasingly unable to save the lives of these people arriving at the camps.”

Aid workers are struggling to save people when they arrive at the camps (Getty)

Mr Opperman said the worst-hit areas were in rural and southern Somalia, and the groups worst affected were the most vulnerable – children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

“Every pound makes a different out here. People are living on nothing, have nothing. If we can provide water, food, and healthcare even on a basic level, that will prevent children just simply dying here every day,” he said.

The head of the UN Refugee Agency, Antonio Guterres, described the drought as the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster” on Monday and appealed for massive support, particularly to help those in the Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest.

Mr Guterres urged more aid agencies to enter Somalia, after the militant group al-Shabaab – which controls central and southern parts of the country – said it would allow foreign workers to operate.

Mr Opperman agreed that international support was desperately needed, both to address the immediate emergency and to prevent disasters of this type happening again in the longer term.

“If we do not address this crisis I fear we will see death on an epic scale. If we do not do something about this, the numbers of children and families dying will be on a scale that is unimaginable,” he said.

How to donate
To donate to the Action Against Hunger Emergency Appeal, click here.

To donate to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal, click here, call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900 or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word CRISIS to 70000.