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Somalia's Humanitarian Crisis Worsens Amid Fears of Widespread Drought

In Somalia, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance continues to grow. At the same time, there are fears a poor rainy season could worsen what’s already being called a precarious food security situation.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says as many as two million people need some type of help and that number is expected to grow as more people flee the capital, Mogadishu.

Matthew Olins is the deputy head of office for OCHA-Somalia. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“Unfortunately, the overall humanitarian situation in Somalia just continues to get worse. For most of 2007, we were trying to raise awareness of the situation for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the town of Afgooye, about 30 kilometers from Mogadishu. In Afgooye, some estimates indicate that there are 200,000 IDPs. The response for those IDPs is ongoing. And currently we have a new major focus of attention from the humanitarian community and this is increasingly looking at parts of central Somalia that are affected by drought. It’s an increasingly more serious drought. In addition, many of these parts of central Somalia are also hosting a significant number of IDPs, perhaps 100 to 150,000,” he says.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have issued a new alert about the upcoming Gu rainy season. The alert says another poor Gu season “would further aggravate the already precarious food security situation in much of Somalia.”

Olins says, “The Gu rains are traditionally the long rains in the Horn of Africa. The Gu season is the major cereal-producing season. But what’s really important for this upcoming GU season is in central regions of Somalia, they’ve already suffered two failed rainy seasons in the past -- the previous Dare, that’s the short rains, and then the Gu before that…. There is a very, very serious water shortage right now. So if the Gu rains fail, and the Gu rains should start in April, we may see the drought situation become especially dire in central Somalia. And I have to add unfortunately that there are drought conditions in some parts of southern Somalia and certainly several regions of Puntland, which is further…and even in Somaliland. There are drought-affected regions in the far north.”

The early warning systems have been set up to alert authorities to the potential for famine. So Olins says action is being taken to prevent it. “We are in the peak of doing water trucking right now. We are really trying to intensify the amount of water we can deliver by trucks and this is a collective effort.” The United Nations, NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross are involved in the joint effort to deliver water.

“We’re also looking at trying to repair deep bore holes so that people do not always have to rely on water trucking as much as they are now,” he says. Besides the effort to supply more water, there are also increased efforts to supply food, medical and educational support.