U.N. calls for crisis talks over African famine


A Somalian refugee at the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya where thousands have fled from the region's worst drought and famine. The United Nations declared crisis talks today on the escalating humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa


Oli Scarff

The United Nations is calling countries, banks and aid agencies into crisis talks over the escalating humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Famine has formally been declared in two regions of Somalia - the first time since 1992 - with the rest of the country and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya also badly affected.

Tens of thousands have already died in Somalia in recent months, which is most affected in the region due to a lack of governance making aid delivery difficult and risky, AFP reports.

The number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has sharply increased to 3.7 million people in the past six months, according to According to the U.N.'s food and agriculture organization, Australia's ABC reports.

The U.N. will hold crisis talks in Rome on Monday with 191 member countries, as well as NGOs, other U.N. organizations and the regional development bank to discuss how to deliver aid safely into drought-affected Somalia, the Guardian reports.

France, the president of the G20 group of leading economies, called the meeting.

The World Food Program decided on Wednesday to open several new aid routes by land and air into Somalia's famine zone within days, executive director Josette Sheeran said from Mogadishu, ABC says.

"We are calling on the world to really back operations, to scale up very quickly to reach those in the epicenter, in the famine conditions in southern Somalia," she said.

"It is very dangerous and risky but we have to reach people, they are not making it all the way to Mogadishu. These are the ones lucky enough to make it here and even these feeding centers are overrun."

Islamist militia group Al Shabaab - which has led the insurgency since the government of Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 - announced this month that it would lift a two-year ban on foreign food aid.

But yesterday armed rebels abducted Somalia's newly appointed women's minister as she was traveling to her first cabinet meeting, ABC reports.

The executive director of Medecins Sans Frontiers in Australia, Paul McPhun, said a deal to allow more foreign aid into Somalia is looking shaky, ABC says.

"Two weeks on we're still in a process of trying to negotiate how to put that into practice and currently we do not have any guarantees or conditions or real opportunity to be able to scale up our ability to put aid on the ground," he said.

McPhun says some of the most desperate cases have fled Somalia to refugee camps in nearby Kenya or Ethiopia.

"This problem is not going to scale down. If anything it is going to continue to scale up," he said.

"People are already talking about figures of 400,000 in the camps along the Kenyan border alone and who knows, it could be higher and we have a similar massive influx in Ethiopia also."

McPhun said it is taking up to two weeks for the refugees to register at the camps.