Climate Change / Drought / East Africa / Ethiopia / ILRI / Kenya / Pastoralism / Somalia / Vulnerability

United Nations upgrades drought in southern Somalia to famine status

Kenya: An elderly woman arrives at Dadaab camp

An elderly Somali woman arrives at Dadaab refugee camp, in northern Kenya; despite the dangers, thousands of refugees every week are making the journey south from Somalia into Kenya, walking for weeks across the desert and braving attacks by armed robbers and wild animals; Dadaab is now the world’s largest refugee camp, supporting more than 370,000 people  as of 11 July 2011 (photo on Flickr by Andy Hall/Oxfam International).

Mongabay, one of the biggest environmental sites on the web, reports on the drought and famine crisis in the Horn of Africa and quotes climate and systems scientist Philip Thornton, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), against assuming that East Africa’s more frequent droughts are due to climate change.

‘. . . The UN has upgraded the disaster—driven by high food prices, conflict, and prolonged drought linked by some to climate change—to famine in parts of Somalia today. Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has said that tens of thousands Somalis have died from malnutrition recently, “the majority of whom were children.”

‘The upgrade of the disaster includes two regions in southern Somalia—lower Shabelle and southern Bakool—both controlled by Shabaab Islamist who are battling with Somalia’s government for control. Affiliated with al-Qaeda, the group has recently lifted a ban on food aid for the regions. . . .

‘Refugee camps have been set up in Kenya and Ethiopia for Somalians fleeing the disaster. However, the refugee camps are vastly overstretched. Over a thousand Somalians are fleeing their country every day, many of them are arriving in a refugee camp called Dadaab built for 90,000 people, but currently holding over 380,000 people. People, especially children, are dying on the journey to the camp and within the camp itself.

“The situation on the ground is very worrying at the moment because people are moving in quite large numbers into Ethiopia and Kenya,” Bowden said. “They’re moving because they lost all their stock as a result of the drought. They’ve run through their reserves and they see no other hope but to move at this stage.”

Livestock is essential in this part of the world, often providing a family’s only income. With livestock perishing from drought, families are left bereft. . . .

‘While the people of East Africa are accustomed to drought periods, the current and long-lasting drought is the worst in 60 years. Rains have not come for two seasons and droughts are coming quicker than in the past. . . .

‘A study this year in Climate Dynamics found that drier conditions in East Africa would likely persist in the future due to climate change. . . .

However, Philip Thornton with Kenya’s International Livestock Research Institute and Scotland’s Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, told the UPI that one cannot say yet whether East Africa is actually becoming drier overall.

“There is no hard, general evidence of this and it is very difficult as yet to see where the statistical trends of rainfall in the region are heading but these will of course become apparent in time,” he said. . . .’

Read the whole article at Mongabay: Tens of thousands starving to death in East Africa, 20 July 20 2011

Read more about Phil Thornton on climate change in this region.

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