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Despite recent rains, Somalia uniquely devastated by drought

© UNICEF/HQ06-0029/Bannon
A shepherd seeks water for his goat in the Bakol Region of Somalia. The nearest water point is 25 km away.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 19 April 2006 – UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen, was in New York earlier this month discussing and planning UNICEF’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.

Although spring rains have come to the region in recent weeks, they are too late to undo most of the damage caused by drought over an extended period, said Mr. Balslev-Olesen.

Somalia is one of several Horn of Africa countries – also including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya – that have been suffering extreme drought conditions for two years. An estimated 8 million people in the Horn countries are in dire need of live-saving assistance, including at least 1.6 million children under the age of five. Children are among the worst-affected by drought, weakening quickly and lethally from dehydration and malnutrition.

Livestock and crops lost

The Somali people have been uniquely hard-hit by the crisis in the Horn of Africa, with 25 percent of the population directly affected. Those most at risk are moving about the country in search of water, making them harder to identify and reach with aid.

“On top of that, Somalia is also a country with polio outbreak,” Mr. Balslev-Olesen told UNICEF correspondent Dan Thomas. “We have documented 200 cases of polio. It started in Mogadishu, but has since moved all over the country.”

The drought has been particularly difficult for pastoralists, who count on their animals for survival. The health of livestock has deteriorated over time and many animals are dying. Even with the new rains, heavy in some parts of the region so far this month, the massive livestock deaths and crop devastation that have already occurred will be nearly impossible to overcome.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0048/Bannon
UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen.

Life-saving measures needed

After two years of poor rainy seasons in the region, explained Mr. Balslev-Olesen, the heavy rains now are just a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed long ago.

“We are very much afraid of what is going to happen in the coming months,” he said. “There will be no food, no way of surviving a normal life in Somalia. That means children are totally dependent on the kind of assistance that we can provide: food, water, health and nutrition.”

Somalia also faces a great risk of famine. According Mr. Balslev-Olesen, a famine is defined as a food crisis in which 10,000 to 12,000 people out of every 1 million will die. “And that is even a very conservative estimate of what can happen if the international aid that’s needed is not forthcoming,” he said.

To help address this crisis and avert famine, UNICEF is working with partner agencies and local communities to establish food distribution sites, many adjacent to school tents. UNICEF was part of a consolidated UN funding appeal issued on 7 April for humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa.

While it may well be too late to save crops and livestock this year in Somalia, suggested Mr. Balslev-Olesen, it’s not too late to fund and institute life-saving measures for children and adults who are facing unthinkable conditions there.




19 April 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on Somalia’s drought crisis and correspondent Dan Thomas interviews UNICEF Somalia Representative Christian Balslev-Olesen.

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