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War Ravaged Somalia In Conflict With Severe Drought

Camels scramble for scarce water resources, 11 March 2006 in Dinsor, southwestern Somalia. The current drought that has hit eastern Africa and the horn has put 11 million people across region at the risk of starvation and has started taking toll on camels. Photo couresty: Simon Maina, AFP.
by Staff Writers
Dinsor (AFP) Mar 14, 2006
Already torn by perennial factional conflicts since plunging into political turmoil more than a decade ago, a severe drought currently ravaging parts of southern Somalia is threatening the lives of millions of war-bruised people.

Two seasons of failed rains have hit the mainly pastoralist communities here hard, and officials estimate that about 60 percent of cattle have died, while some people have been forced to drink their urine as the drought intensifies.

"If it rains in April, then there will be some hope," said Xavier Duboc of French aid group Action Contre la Faim (AICF).

"If it does not rain, I do not have the words to describe the situation," he added.

According to UN estimates, some two million people in Somalia have been affected by the drought, which is also ravaging parts Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti and up to 11 million people are on the verge of starvation in all the four countries.

"The situation is more worrying (in Somalia) because of the 15 years of conflict in a country that has lacked central government," said Pascal Hundt, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Somalia.

Residents of Dinsor, an hamlet in the southern Bay region, are facing acute water shortage with several wells dried up and river beds strewn with putrefying cattle carcases that fill the dry air with pungent smell.

"It is a big drought although people have not died, but it is nothing compared to 1991-1992 when 10 people were dying per day," said Abdihafid Sheik Hussein, a clan official.

Severe food shortage is yet to be felt in the region, according to officials and residents who say they are bracing for the effects of a prolonged drought should the expected rains fail again.

"There is no famine yet, but all the indications are that there will be one," Duboc said.

The ACF is to open a feeding centre in Wajid, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Dinsor, while the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has sent two additional staff to Dinsor to set up a vaccination centre for innoculation against measles as well as to step up its feeding programme for children.

"We are not experiencing a serious catastrophe at the moment, but we are closely monitoring the situation," said Stefan Pleger, MSF director in Dinsor.

Despite being plagued by years of war which is now exacerbated by a scorching drought, some locals say the combination has helped harden the people, yet they also lament a poor response by humanitarian groups working in the region.

"After 15 years of conflict, Somalis have developed resistance," Hussein said.

Still, the ICRC has been distributing water to tens of thousands of people in the most affected villages for the last one and a half months.

But "the humanitarian response is limited," Hussein added.

In addition, the Somali diaspora, which injects about a billion dollars per year to the Horn of African nation, has come to the aid of the drought-stricken locals.

However, aid officials warn that radical Muslim groups may use the opportunity to propagate extremism.

"Fundamental Muslim groups can take advantage of the situation of helping the population and recruit," according to a humanitarian official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

"When your alleviate the suffering, people are tempted to listen to your ideas," said the official.

Somalia has been wracked by chronic unrest with warlords and rival militias fighting for control of unruly fiefdoms that sprung up after Barre's 1991 ouster.

Since then, the country has had no functioning central government and numerous efforts to create a viable new administration have failed.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Water Restrictions Imposed On London As Drought Fears Worsen
London (AFP) Mar 14, 2006
Britain's biggest water company said on Monday it was slapping water restrictions on the London area for the first time in 15 years amid some of the worst shortages in a century.

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