21 Jul 2011

UN declares famine in Somalia

Tens of thousands of people have already died in Somalia as the UN declares an official famine. A key figure leading the African Union’s efforts tells Channel 4 News “we’ll be burying children soon”.

It is hoped the famine declaration could signal to donors the need for more aid, as well as demonstrating to insurgents in the country that the international community is taking the population’s suffering seriously.

In all, more than 10m people are affected by the drought across the Horn of Africa, including almost 3 million in Somalia. One in three children is suffering from malnutrition, the UN says.

Mark Bowden, humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, said southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had been hit by the worst famine in the region in 20 years, and the situation could spread to all eight regions in the south.

Read more on the Africa drought - a tough week to launch an appeal? 

Mr Bowden said: “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.

“Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine affected areas.”

Every day of delay is literally a matter of life or death. UN’s Mark Bowden

The UN is appealing for $300m in the next two months for Somalia alone.

Famine is defined as a crude mortality rate of more than 2 people per 10,000 per day and wasting rates of above 30 per cent in children under five years old across an entire region, according to the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef).

'We'll be burying lots of children soon'
Former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings is leading the African Union's efforts to deal with the famine in Somalia. He spoke to Jon Snow this afternoon from Mogadishu.

Mr Rawlings said he believed up to £1bn was needed to deal with the situation in the longer term. "But right now, for the next few weeks, as early as possible, I think something to the tune of $250m."

Describing what he had seen this morning during a visit to a camp near Mogadishu, an emotional Mr Rawlings said: "I'm not sure many of them will be alive in the next week or two."

Read more: Rawlings pleads for aid to ease Somalia famine
United Nations to declare famine in Somalia (Getty)

It is believed that 500,000 children are at risk of death across the Horn of Africa. One in 10 children in parts of Somalia could starve to death. Aid agencies are trying to address the emergency but in some areas are hampered by security fears. This is particularly relevant in the south of the country, which is controlled by insurgent group Al Shabaab.

Earlier this month, the rebels allowed aid workers in to rebel-held territory in a sign of the severity of the crisis.

One aid worker in the country last week told Channel 4 News he feared death on an “epic, unimaginable scale” unless more was done to tackle the situation.

Jens Opperman, head of charity Action Against Hunger in Somalia, said: “We are witnessing unimaginable human suffering.”

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