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Fleeing Somalis overstretch drought relief efforts
by Staff Writers
Dadaab, Kenya (AFP) Aug 2, 2011

Uganda may be next to be hit by severe drought: FAO
Geneva (AFP) Aug 2, 2011 - Uganda may become the next country to fall victim to severe food shortages due to drought already seen in other Horn of Africa states, the UN food agency warned Tuesday.

"We have started to monitor the situation in Uganda where we are also seeing pockets of food insecurity affected by the same drought conditions," said a spokeswoman for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"Uganda may be the next country hit with these same sort of alarming malnutrition and drought conditions," she added.

In July, the UN declared a famine in two regions in Somalia and has estimated that millions of people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti needed urgent aid as livestock and crops were wiped out by severe drought.

Arriving in their hundreds every day to seek relief in overcrowded Kenyan camps, weak and weary Somalis fleeing extreme drought and conflict face a new struggle to get food and shelter.

Like thousands of fellow Somalis, Adan Ahmed made the long and dangerous trek through the parched and famine-struck lands of southern Somalia, hiding from militia gunmen to escape into neighbouring Kenya.

"It is better here than in Somalia, but it is still not that good," said Ahmed, who is now struggling for his children's survival in the giant Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya.

Conditions in refugee camps are grim, as the pressure grows each day with swelling numbers sharing limited supplies of food, medicine, shelter and water.

"There is hardly any food and lots of problems," he added sadly.

Around 1,300 Somalis flee each day into neighbouring Kenya in the desperate search of support.

"For me and my children, the future does not look good here," 60-year old Ahmed added.

Dadaab -- a tightly packed settlement of huts made of rags and plastic sheeting -- is the world's largest refugee complex.

The dust-blown series of camps in eastern Kenya are home to over 380,000 mainly Somalis fleeing drought and war.

"On our journey here we were attacked twice -- they took some of our clothes and our food," said 80-year-old Howa Hassan Abdi, waiting in a giant queue for measles and polio vaccinations for her four grandchildren.

"When we got here, my grandchildren got treatment as they were very sick and very hungry, but they got treated, and we got food," added Abdi, who fled from the region around Somali's dangerous capital two months ago.

"The only thing we are suffering is that there are no toilets."

The UN has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia controlled by Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels, but the effects have been felt more widely across the country, as well as in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

The flood of refugees have stretched aid workers to the limits.

"Every day more than 1,300 people arrive here," said William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

"The population is growing and there's no prospect of that stopping."

Despite growing international criticism, a purpose-built camp extension able to house some 40,000 more people -- complete with tin-roof houses and pit latrines -- remains closed.

Senior Kenyan government officials have made repeated assurances that the camp called Ifo II can open, but it also fears an infiltration by Somali Islamist Shebab insurgents.

With a formal decision still to be made, aid workers have been forced to move refugees into a separate extension of basic tents, where latrines are still being constructed.

"If the exodus from Somalia continues there will be no room for all of the refugees here in Dadaab," added Spindler worriedly.

Some in government have argued that feeding centres should be set up inside Somalia instead, but aid workers are restricted in the help they can offer there, given the risks of operating in a war-torn region where kidnap is common.

"We are present in Somalia, and we are already helping people," Spindler added.

"But we are not reaching all those who need our help, because of the insecurity, the presence of militia and because of the ongoing combat inside Somalia."

Some are succeeding -- the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday it had distributed food to 162,000 people in south and central Somalia, regions largely controlled by Islamist rebels.

But the challenges of supporting even those who have left the danger zones in Somalia remain enormous.

Malnutrition rates in Somalia are currently the highest in the world, weakening a population where few have received even basic immunisations.

In response, the UN children agency UNICEF launched on Monday a five-day mass vaccination campaign for polio and measles.

"Teams are going from tent to tent, to make sure all children aged between six months and five years are given life-saving vaccines," said Melissa Corkum, a UNICEF spokeswoman.

"There are cases of measles in the camp as children are coming from Somalia, where immunisation is very low."

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UN calls on airlines to help fly food to E.Africa
Geneva (AFP) Aug 2, 2011 - The United Nations appealed Tuesday to the air transport industry to help fly food in urgently to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are starving due to a severe drought.

"We're making an appeal to the air transport industry for free and heavily discounted cargo space to help us transport emergency nutrition supplies to the Horn of Africa," said Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for the UN children's agency.

British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and UPS have all offered to transport between 15 and 50 metric tonnes a week, but UNICEF is "looking to others to step forward as well."

The agency is trying to get 5,000 metric tonnes of food from its warehouses in Europe to the region, but it costs about $350,000 (250,000 euros) to transport just 100 metric tonnes of food by cargo jumbo jet from France to Nairobi.

"That costs us pretty much the cost of the cargo itself," noted Mercado.

While transportation by sea is another option, there is a six-week gap and not all who are in need can afford to wait, said the UNICEF spokeswoman.

"There are over 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa. More than half a million will die if they don't get help within weeks," said Mercado.

"We are asking the air transport industry for free or heavily discounted cargo space to transport this therapeutic food to children who will die without it," she stressed.

The UN declared a famine in two regions in Somalia in July, and estimated that over 12 million people across the Horn of Africa region are in dire need of help.

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Record-breaking US drought in July: data
Washington (AFP) Aug 1, 2011
July was a record-breaking dry month in parts of the United States, with 12 percent of the country under an "exceptional" drought causing crop losses and water shortages, authorities said Monday. The "exceptional" drought level, the highest on a five-step scale, spanned the largest amount of US territory since the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska began ... read more

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