SHEBEDINO, Ethiopia: Rising Starvation Forcing Malnourished Children Into Feeding Centers: UPDATED

17 Aug


Irish aid agencies, working to help famine victims in Somalia say the response to their appeals for financial help has been ‘remarkable’.

 Somalia - A young boy with severe diarrhea waits for treatment
Somalia – A young boy with severe diarrhea waits for treatment
Irish aid agencies, working to help famine victims in Somalia and neighbouring countries in East Africa say the response to their appeals for financial help has been ‘remarkable’.

Over the past six weeks Irish people have donated €12 million for famine relief, according to Dóchas, the overseas development agencies umbrella organization.

This is in addition to the €8m being provided by the Government.

There have been several further warnings, over the past 24 hours, that the famine crisis in Somalia is worsening – with fears that up to 400,000 children there could die from disease and starvation.

Dóchas Director Hans Zomer said it was clear that Irish people had a deep understanding of the suffering famine victims were experiencing and wanted to help.

Trocaire says it has received more than €5 million in donations; a further €4 million has been contributed to Concern.

Trócaire’s Chief Executive Justin Kilcullen said the money had made it possible for it to rapidly expand its operations in Somalia.

It was getting increasing amounts of food and medical aid to famine victims – including those living in areas controlled by the fundamentalist Al Shabaab organization – and was about to launch a new initiative to reduce the incidence of malaria among children under the age of five.

SHEBEDINO, Ethiopia (AP)Malnourished children are flocking into feeding centers in this forested corner of southern Ethiopia after a drought in East Africa extended into this normally fertile region.

Relatives of Hassan Abdulkadir Adan,3rd left rear, from southern Somalia help to lower the body of his 7-year-old son into a grave in a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The World Food Program said Saturday that it is expanding food distribution efforts in famine-ravaged Somalia, where the U.N. has estimated that only 20 percent of people needing aid are able to receive it because an al-Qaida-linked group controls large portions of the country.(AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

While the famine in southern Somalia has grabbed headlines, southern Ethiopia is teetering on the brink of a food crisis. The Ethiopian government says 250,000 people need food aid amid what the U.N. says is the worst drought in 60 years. An aid organization and agricultural officials say the number of people who need emergency food aid in Ethiopia is bigger, around 700,000.

The rains never came as they usually do late February to the end of May. If they fail again in August, there won’t be a harvest in September.

People without food aid will “definitely be in trouble,” World Food Program officer Yohannes Desta said. “Do these people have enough resilience to survive? I don’t think so.”

Tsegaye Tilahun, a corn farmer, said he is worried that September won’t bring him any yields at all. His previous crops this year ended up being cattle feed after heavy rains destroyed them. After a long dry spell, the plants couldn’t absorb the sudden heavy rain.

As a result of losing all his corn and coffee crops, Tsegaye’s family went hungry. His daughter Eskael became dangerously underweight and he brought her to a government-run feeding center in Shebedino. He has relied on food handouts for months.

Nurses at a food center in Shebedino, one of many in the region, said they see about 50 severely malnourished children a month. A year ago an average of only six underfed children received treatment there per month.

Berhanu, a 1½-year-old baby, has twig-thin arms and weighs half of what he should. Shundure Tekamo, a mother of six, brought Berhanu to the feeding center for the second time in six months.

“I’m caught in a dilemma,” she said. “I want to save my child but who is feeding my children at home?”

Shundure said there was no food to feed them when she left home and she expects her husband to come up with an alternative to “improve our life.”

This ethnically diverse region is overpopulated. Most families have six or more people, but farmers till only tiny, state-owned plots.

Farmers should diversify crops and have smaller families, Yohannes said. The Ethiopian government, which is giving out cash to the hungry as food reserves have dwindled, prefers to resettle southern farmers to less densely populated and more fertile areas, mostly hundreds of miles (kilometers) away. This year 86 farmers from Shebedino who the government says have volunteered for resettlement have been moved to Benchmaji in the southwest of Ethiopia.

While the authorities claim the resettled farmers are better off, Yohannes questions its success. “The problem is that people get resettled to places with a different culture and different agricultural practices,” he said.

While chopping with his machete at a false banana tree stem — an edible, drought-resistant plant indigenous to Ethiopia’s south — to feed his donkey, Tessema Naramo said he is one of the few villagers whose children don’t face malnutrition. Tessema is an 80-year old farmer and father of nine. His oldest is 37. The youngest is 5.

“The weather has changed and ruined my harvest in the last couple of years, so I diversified my crops,” he said. Next to the usual corn and coffee, he planted banana and avocado trees and started growing eucalyptus trees, which people use for firewood or house-building material. It turned out to be a lucrative business.

But now amid the prolonged drought, Naramo is using his crops to feed his own family, “and even that is hardly enough.”

With the possibility that things may turn more dire if the rains don’t come, it still not clear how many people need food aid here. The government says 250,000 do, though local officials in the south’s agricultural bureau asked the government to provide aid to at least 385,000 more people, said Getatchew Lema, a local food security coordinator. The World Food Program says at least 700,000 require emergency relief.

Across the Horn of Africa, more than 12 million people need food aid. Besides Somalia and Ethiopia, the drought has also hit Kenya and Djibouti.

Hassan Abdulkadir Adan, left, and Moktar Hassan Garad, right, from southern Somalia carry their dead 7 and 5 year-old boys from a local hospital in Mogadishu, for burial Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011, The World Food Program said Saturday that it is expanding food distribution efforts in famine-ravaged Somalia, where the U.N. has estimated that only 20 percent of people needing aid are able to receive it because an al-Qaida-linked group controls large portions of the country. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)


Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell visits a camp for displaced people in Mogadishu August 17, 2011. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/POOL

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell visits …

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of children could starve to death in Somalia if the international community did not ramp up its response to the famine there, and pledged a further $48 million to aid children and livestock owners.

The latest pledge brings Britain’s total aid to help tackle what aid agencies are calling the worst drought in decades to hit Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, to over 100 million pounds.

“We call today on other countries to put their shoulders to the wheel and ensure this dreadful famine … does not claim up to 400,000 children,” Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s International Development Secretary, told a news conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

“We think the response around the world has been inadequate, dangerously inadequate,” Mitchell later said in Nairobi.

Within the newly announced British package, 25 million pounds will go to UNICEF to provide 192,000 people with two months of supplementary rations and to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of children against measles and polio, a statement issued by the Department for International Development said.

A further 4 million pounds are earmarked for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to support the treatment and vaccination of more than 2 million animals weakened by drought, on whom 70,000 livestock owners depend.

Japan has also pledged about $600,000 worth of aid to the U.N. refugee agency to help famine victims at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, home to 440,000 Somali refugees.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference pledged $350 million at an emergency summit in Istanbul.

Mitchell’s visit to Somalia, which is grappling to quash an Islamist rebellion that has hampered the delivery of food aid across swathes of its southern and central regions, was the first by a senior British minister since 1992.


Somalia has been mired in violence and is awash with weapons since the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. First warlords, then Islamist militants stepped into the power vacuum, reducing a string of Western-backed governments to impotence.

Earlier this month, however, the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels pulled most of their troops out of Mogadishu, epicenter of their bloody struggle.

Their retreat effectively left the government in control of the entire capital for the first time since the civil war began in the early nineties, although Somali troops and African peacekeepers still encounter pockets of rebel resistance.

“(We discussed) the importance of taking the opportunity of using the withdrawal of al Shabaab from Mogadishu to demonstrate what the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) can deliver,” Mitchell said after meeting Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.

It was imperative Somalia’s government cracked down on corruption, said Mitchell, who also visited a feeding center and refugee camp in Mogadishu.

Somalia is among the world’s most corrupt nations and in recent days has been hit by allegations that food aid intended for famine victims was being stolen and sold for a profit.

The U.N. World Food Program said on Monday it was investigating claims of theft and sought to assure Somalis there would be no reduction in food aid flows.

“I want to tell the international community that we have a zero tolerance, zero tolerance, for any kind of government militia or any other Somali looting food aid,” Ali said.

Thousands of refugees have been making the treacherous journey from the worst-hit drought areas, mostly under the control of rebels, to Mogadishu to seek access to food.

There they generally stay at one of several overcrowded makeshift camps in Mogadishu. Cholera has broken out in parts of the capital as well as in other areas of the country.

The British charity Oxfam said it would begin airlifting 47 tons of water supplies and hygiene materials to Mogadishu on Thursday to help more than 120,000 people get clean water.

(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Yara Bayoumy).

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