British PM highlights 'catastrophic' east Africa drought

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Aid agencies scrambled Monday to rush emergency food supplies to millions in east Africa facing what British Prime Minister David Cameron labelled "the most catastrophic" drought in a generation.

The situation is especially tough inside the Somali capital Mogadishu, where those unable to escape have made desperate appeals for support.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that what we are seeing today is the most catastrophic situation in that region for a generation," Cameron said during a press conference in South Africa, at the start of an African tour.

"Tens of thousands may have died already, many of them children under five," he said in Pretoria.

Britain on Saturday promised 52 million pounds (59 million euro, 73 million dollars) in emergency aid, and Cameron urged other nations to follow suit.

"I would urge those who are still considering their responses to act without delay," he pleaded.

In the overcrowded and tough conditions of Badbado camp in Somalia's war-torn capital Mogadishu, people say they are in dire need of food for survival.

"The aid agencies are concentrating on feeding those who fled Somalia to neighbouring countries," said Agmed Abdullahi, who decided to risk the regular gun battles in Mogadishu in a search for aid.

"They are less helpful to those inside," he added.

Somalis continue to flee into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, with some 10 million people facing starvation, according to UN figures.

But those Somalis unable to make the long and dangerous trek out complain they are being forgotten.

"Some of us can't reach Kenya," said Mumina Mohamed, a mother from the Lower Shabelle region.

"It is too far, and difficult to come back home later."

Stories of how aid groups are providing more supplies in neighbouring countries are common amongst those seeking shelter in Mogadishu.

"I am sure there are plenty of aid agencies in Kenya with a lot of food," said Maryam Abduqadir, a mother from Bay region.

"But my three children are too young, and they can't travel that far."

At the Badbado camp, a Qatari aid agency provides food twice a day, but supplies are rapidly running out.

"The need of the people here is too much," said aid official Duraan Ahmed Farah. "We need more help, to get more aid agencies in, including the UN."

Many are bitter at the lack of aid, describing a recent visit by Somali doctors to the camps as a "public relation exercise."

"The doctors came with many journalists, and only came for a day," said Idris Abdi. "Our medical needs are more than that."

Doctors with African Union troops in Mogadishu report cases of measles in a new camp of 700 people that has sprung up close to the city's airport.

"The need is great and we can only make small emergency interventions," said senior officer Kaamurari Katwekyeire, in a statement released late on Sunday.

The camp was growing in size every day, he added, calling on humanitarian organisations "to come to the aid of the Somali people."

He said that doctors are also struggling to cope with diarrhoea "resulting from a combination of severe malnutrition and the unsanitary conditions."

Local aid workers say they are overwhelmed by the needs of people.

"Those in the camps here are not receiving proper support," said aid worker Ahmed Moalim Hassan.

"We hear that sometimes refugees in Kenya get high energy biscuits for children, but not here," he added sadly.

But people say they know that the tense security situation means few are hopeful of large-scale foreign intervention.

"Everybody is armed here, and white people don't like to die,"said Abdi Hassan Adan, who fled to the capital with his wife and four children.

"If Somalia was peaceful there could have been more aid workers."

However, the first deliveries of aid are beginning to get through, despite the enormous challenges.

Large areas of southern Somalia are controlled by the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels, who only recently lifted a two-year-old ban on foreign relief groups.

The first UN airlift into rebel held areas landed on Wednesday in the town of Baidoa on Wednesday, containing five metric tonnes of food and medicine.

© 2011 AFP

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