Today in Famine

Since much of the mainstream media, progressive and conservative blogosphere, and Twittervese seems to be silent on the first famine of the 21st century, I thought it might be useful to post a regular feature on the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

So, here is the first installment of a very unfortunately new feature on UN Dispatch: “Today in Famine.” We will keep it going until the United Nations declares that the immediate famine emergency is over.  That does not appear to be anytime soon. In fact, agencies are currently warning that the famine will spread unless there is increased humanitarian access to areas hit by the region’s worst drought in 60 years.


11.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. The famine, now being experienced in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia, is expected to spread across all regions in southern Somalia soon, without immediate response and access.

Out of an estimated US$2 billion in humanitarian requirements for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, $1 billion has been committed.

Some recent developments:

The International Rescue Committee reports a four fold increase of gender based violence among famine refugees:

Rape and sexual violence were identified as the most pressing concern for women and girls while fleeing Somalia and as an ongoing, though lesser, concern in the camps. In June 2011, IRC’s GBV program witnessed a fourfold increase in reporting of sexual violence compared with figures from January to May, many referred from the reception centre in Hagadera.

Meanwhile, Plan International says that high food prices are forcing girls to leave schools by the droves in drought afflicted areas of Ethiopia.

Severe drought and rising food prices in southern Ethiopia are increasingly forcing girls out of school and into work as families struggle to meet their food needs.

A recent Plan assessment in Leku, Shebedino, shows that many girls are dropping out of school because their families can’t afford to pay their school fees. Girls, rather than boys, are most likely to lose out on their education as they are held responsible for helping to feed their families.

Gruelling work

Sisters Meskerem, 12, and Senait, 16, have recently left school to make pottery products. They work a gruelling 12-hour day to produce baking plates, which they sell to buy food.

The UN Refugee Agency has already reported that some 1,000 people are arriving by the day to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Somalia. Apparently, Mogadishu is also experiencing an unprecedented influx of people displaced by the drought.