Millions living on the margins of survival in the horn of Africa

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Drought, combined with soaring food and fuel prices, is causing a severe humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa region, according to the top United Nations relief official.

“Large areas of the Horn of Africa, including parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya, are now in or rapidly sliding towards a humanitarian emergency,” the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York on Friday.

He said in a statement obtained in Nairobi that the UN believed there were close to 14 million people who were now in urgent need of food aid and other humanitarian assistance in the coming months.

Holmes noted that recurrent failure of rains on top of sharp rises in fuel and food prices are crippling local agricultural production and putting at risk the livelihood of millions of people who are already living “on the margins of survival”.

In southern Ethiopia some 4.6 million people are now in need of emergency food support, adding to the 5.7 million who are already receiving help under a government safety net programme.

Among those affected 75,000 children are severely malnourished and in need of urgent supplementary feeding, which is being supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

“In humanitarian terms, the situation is unacceptable,” Dr. Eric Laroche, Assist ant Director-General for WHO’s Health Action in Crises Cluster, said on Friday in a separate statement obtained in Nairobi.

“The health of millions of Ethiopians is worsening by the day, and the international community must act to support the country’s government to ease this terrible suffering.”

WHO reported that areas affected by food shortages in Ethiopia are also at significant risk from the outbreak of disease, including meningitis, measles and diarrhoea.

In Somalia, Holmes said there was an acute crisis caused by conflict, drought, and price rises in basic commodities.

He noted that partly as a result of the devaluation of the Somali shilling, the price of imported rice had risen by up to 350 per cent between the beginning of 2007 and May 2008.

The number of people in Somalia in need of humanitarian aid has risen to 2.6 million this year, representing 35 per cent of the population, while the latest assessments have revealed that global acute malnutrition levels have risen to between 18 and 24 per cent in some areas, well above the 15 per cent which is considered to constitute an emergency.

Holmes, who is also the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, stressed that ongoing conflict in Somalia had forced 850,000 people to flee the capital Mogadishu creating additional problems for populations facing severe food shortages.

In Kenya, 1.2 million people are in need of emergency assistance, especially in the north-western pastoral districts, while in Uganda 700,000 people in the north east are receiving relief supplies in an area wrecked by conflict.

Holmes said that Eritrea was also suffering from successive rain failures and that in Djibouti global acute malnutrition rates for children under five had risen to between 17 and 25 per cent in some areas, adding that 80,000 people in the northwest were in need of assistance.

The Under-Secretary-General called for international aid to be scaled up and said that the UN was also trying to re-boost local agricultural production by providing seeds, fertilizers and animal feed to help preserve livestock in the region. Panapress .

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