Famine in Somalia hits women and children hardest

While the US media has been narrowly focused on the debt ceiling deal, an extreme humanitarian crisis has developed in Somalia and neighboring countries, where it has not rained in four or five years. From IRIN:

According to the Famine and Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), the drought situation is the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa’s worst food security crisis since Somalia’s 1991/1992 famine.

On 20 July, the UN declared famine in Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool regions in southern Somalia, warning that the situation could worsen because the drought had been compounded by insecurity, lack of aid and food price inflation.

The famine has been brought on by an extreme drought, and according to IRIN, rains are not expected until October, meaning a few more seasons of lost crops and livestock.

As we’ve seen in other humanitarian crisis, women and children often bare the brunt of the impact. This is true for the Somalian famine as well, where it is estimated that 80% of refugees are women and children.

Even as the UN announced that famine had spread to more areas in south-central Somalia, reports from the capital, Mogadishu, indicate that the suffering of the drought-displaced, mostly women and children, was increasing, with reports that government forces and Al-Shabab militia were hampering aid distribution in areas under their control.

“The situation is such that most of those reaching Mogadishu are mainly women and children because most of the men have remained in the Al-Shabab-held areas since they fear being arrested by government forces for allegedly being pro-Al Shabab,” Su’di Mohamed Ali, director of administration and finance in the Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs, told IRIN. “Al-Shabab itself often prevents men from going to government-controlled areas.”

The Obama Administration responded to the crisis earlier this week by agreeing not to “prosecute relief agencies for delivering aid to parts of Somalia controlled by the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, despite concerns that unrestricted aid in the failed state would be diverted to the wrong hands.”

Hopefully the removal of those aid restrictions will improve the dire situation there.

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