News / Africa

UN: Children at Ethiopia Camp Dying at 'Alarming' Rate

Somali refugee Mohamed Ibrahim (R) prepares to bury his son Sahro Mohamed, 1, who died of malnutrition in Ethiopia's Kobe camp, August 13, 2011
Somali refugee Mohamed Ibrahim (R) prepares to bury his son Sahro Mohamed, 1, who died of malnutrition in Ethiopia's Kobe camp, August 13, 2011

The U.N. refugee agency says children at an Ethiopian camp for Somali refugees are dying at an "alarming" rate.

Definition of Famine:

The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:

  • Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
  • More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
  • Severe lack of food access for large population

Current Famine:

    Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 per cent in some areas. The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.

    The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.

    Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:

  • Somalia 1991-1992
  • Ethiopia 1984-1985
  • Ethiopia 1974

The agency reports that an average of ten children under the age of five are dying each day at the Kobe refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia.  It says malnutrition is the major cause of death but that a suspected measles outbreak is compounding the problems.

The camp in the Dollo Ado area opened in June for the thousands of Somalis fleeing drought, famine and fighting in their country.

The U.N. has declared a famine in five regions of southern Somalia and predicts it will spread throughout the entire south by the end of next month.

Britain's international development secretary says up to 400,000 Somali children could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken.  Andrew Mitchell on Wednesday made the first visit by a British minister in more than 18 years to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.  He said Britain would pledge an additional $41 million in aid.

In another development, Muslim nations have pledged $350 million to help Somalia deal with the crisis.  The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation had hoped to collect $500 million in pledges during a meeting Wednesday in Istanbul.

The United Nations says more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food aid.  The region is experiencing the worst drought in six decades.

In Somalia, where the situation is the most dire, the U.N. says as many as 3.2 million people are estimated to be on the brink of starvation.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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