According to the United Nations, vast numbers of Somali children are dying as they flee with their families to reach camps in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya. The refugees are trying to escape Somalia’s worst drought in 60 years, which, compounded by violence, is causing a devastating food crisis. The UNHCR explained that the malnutrition rates in Somalia were “staggering,” with more than a quarter of Somalia’s 7.5 million citizens uprooted internally or living outside the country. And even if families do reach refugee camps outside Somalia’s borders, many children arrive so exhausted and malnourished that they die within 24 hours, despite immediate help and emergency care.
“Knowing that children are dying along their journey to safety breaks our hearts,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “This is turning one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises into a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions.”
According to the BBC, “more than 50% of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia are seriously malnourished. In Kenya, that figure is between 30% and 40%.”
Overcrowding is an increasing problem in the camps, as is food availability. In some camps, thousands of refugees are arriving every day. Some were robbed, raped, or attacked by animals on their way to the border, and many went for days without food or water. When they arrive, however, they have to wait for hours or days to receive basic food rations.
In a move that signals the depth of the crisis in Somalia, al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group which controls the country has lifted a ban on foreign aid. ”Whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, [if] their intention is only to assist those suffering, they can contact the committee which will give them access to the drought-hit areas,” said a spokesman for al-Shabab. UN officials hope that al-Shabab’s decision could curb the flow of refugees, and reduce deaths. But it also shows just how desperate the situation is.
It’s easy to read a story like this and feel bad, but take no action. After all, Somalia is far away and it seems as though we are powerless in the face of natural disasters and sweeping violence. The UN and other aid agencies, however, are pleading for support, and I encourage you to go to their website to see what you can do to help.
You can also sign the Care2 petition, asking President Obama to make aid to Somalia a US priority. After all, the United States has only contributed $14.5 million to food aid in Somalia this year, nowhere near what Somalis need to survive. We can, and should, do more. Tell President Obama to send more help from the United States to Somalia!
Photo from expertinfantry via flickr