Aid workers rush to help East Africa’s 800,000 hungry children
DADAAB, Kenya (AP) – Seven-month-old Mihag Gedi Farah is the frail face of famine in the Horn of Africa. He stares out wide-eyed almost in alarm, his skin pulled taut over his ribs and twig-like arms.
At only 7 pounds, he weighs as much as a newborn but has the weathered look of an elderly man.
Mihag is just one of 800,000 children who officials warn could die across the region. Aid workers are rushing to bring help to dangerous and previously unreached regions of drought-ravaged Somalia.
Famine victims like Mihag bring new urgency to their efforts, raising concerns about how many hungry children still remain in Somalia, far away from the feeding tubes and doctors in the field hospital at this Kenyan refugee camp.
The United Nations estimates that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought, with 3.7 million in Somalia among the worst-hit because of the ongoing civil war in the country.
Somalia’s prolonged drought became a famine in part because neither the Somali government nor many aid agencies can fully operate in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants, and the U.N. is set to declare all of southern Somalia a famine zone as of Aug. 1.
Aid organizations including the U.N. World Food Program have not been able to access areas under the control of the al-Shabab militants, who have killed humanitarian workers and banned the WFP.
The U.N. has said it will airlift emergency rations later this week to try to reach at least 175,000 of the 2.2 million Somalis who have not been helped yet.
The new feeding efforts in the four districts of southern Somalia near the border with Kenya and Ethiopia could begin by Thursday, slowing the flow of tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes in hope of reaching aid.
But the WFP hasn’t operated there for more than two years and must find and rehire former employees to help with distribution. Transportation is also a substantial obstacle because land mines have severed key roads and a landing strip has fallen into disrepair.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said a coordination conference would be held Wednesday in the Kenyan capital.
Donations are also desperately needed to sustain the aid effort in the Horn of Africa: The U.N. wants to gather $1.6 billion in the next 12 months, with $300 million of that coming in the next three months.
At the Kenyan refugee camp, Mihag’s nurse takes his measurements and describes him as “severely, severely malnourished.”
“We never tell the mother, of course, that their baby might not make it,” the nurse says. “We try to give them hope.”