Famine imminent for millions in east Africa

With skyrocketing food prices combined with drought and conflict, millions in East Africa face the possibility of starvation. Aid agencies estimate that 14.6 million people could face disaster if donors do not release funds.


More than 14 million people across east Africa are facing a humanitarian disaster because of a "lethal mix" of soaring food prices, drought and conflict, aid agencies say.

"The situation in the region is of extreme concern," Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the World Food Programme in Nairobi, told AFP Friday.

"Rising food prices on top of drought this year means that more and more people than in previous years are falling over the edge into destitution," he said.

His comments echo warnings from the UN children's agency and the British-based development charity Oxfam.

"A lethal mix of drought, expanding conflict, rising food and energy prices, disease and high poverty is pushing children and their families in the Greater Horn of Africa to the brink of disaster," UNICEF said earlier this month.

Oxfam said Thursday a "toxic cocktail" of crises was putting millions at risk.

Aid agencies estimate that a total of 14.6 million people are facing disaster if donors do not urgently release funds.

Smerdon said UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, governments and donors "need to react now to provide sufficient food and other assistance to bring the situation under control, or else there will be widespread suffering and increased deaths".

At least 2.6 million Somalis -- out of a total population of between nine and 10 million -- are facing acute food shortages, but this figure could rise to 3.5 million by the end of the year, the UN says.

"An estimated 180,000 children are believed to be acutely malnourished" in the Horn of Africa nation, an increase of 11 percent in the past six months, according to the Food Security Analysis Unit, run by the UN's food agency.

In certain areas the rains have failed for the fourth season running, it noted in a report published Friday.

The situation is made worse by the pull-out of aid agencies from Somalia, where civil war has raged since 1991 and where aid workers have increasingly been targeted in the violence.

The World Food Programme has launched an urgent appeal for 254 million euros (400 million dollars) to feed people threatened with starvation in Somalia, as well as Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, until the end of the year.

In Ethiopia, where a rebellion is raging in the southeast Ogaden region, a serious drought has left about 4.6 million people in need of urgent food aid, the UN says. It has raised fears of a repeat of the devastating famines of the 1980s that killed almost one million people.

In Kenya, which is recovering from a bloody political crisis that left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, 1.2 million people are facing starvation.

The UN says 707,000 people in Uganda's rural region of Karamoja are in dire need of food, and a further 80,000 people face severe food shortages in Djibouti, which has been hit by numerous droughts in recent years.

In Eritrea, drought and rising food prices are also likely to have serious humanitarian consequences, but details are scant because the Asmara government has ordered at least nine NGOs to leave the country since the beginning of 2006.

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