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Starvation kills 110 as famine looms in Somalia

March 4, 2017

The UN has said 5 million people are at risk, and thousands have already begun streaming into the capital in search of food. Aid efforts are being hampered by a lack of international response and conflict on the ground.

Somalia Hunger und Cholera fordern  mindestens 110 Todesopfer
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/F. Abdi Warsameh

Somalia's prime minister announced Saturday that 110 people have died of hunger in the past 48 hours as a severe drought threatens millions of people across the country.

The death toll announcement comes just four days after Somalia's government declared the drought a national disaster - threatening the Horn of Africa nation with full-blown famine. The United Nations estimates that 5 million people across the country are in need of aid.

Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire's comments came during a meeting with the Somali National Drought Committee. The death toll he announced is all from the Bay region in the southwest part of the country.

Somalia was one of four regions singled out by the UN secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the UN chief said.

UN humanitarian coordinator Stephen O'Brien is expected to visit Somalia in the coming days.

Local and international aid agencies are being overwhelmed in the capital. More than 7,000 people recently checked into one feeding center in Mogadishu.

The drought is the first crisis for Somalia's newly elected leader, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. Previous droughts and a quarter-century of conflict, including ongoing attacks by extremist group al-Shabab, have left the country fragile.

Dürre in Somalia.
A dried-up riverbed in Somalia is testament to the country's devastating droughtImage: DW/A. Kiti

Government appeals for help

Mohamed has appealed for help from the international community and Somalia's diaspora of 2 million people, of which he was recently a member.

There are more than 360,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia that "need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished," the US Agency for International Development's Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned.

Many areas lack clean water, creating the additional threat of cholera and other diseases, UN experts said. Indeed, a local government official from Somalia's Bay region said at least 69 people died from cholera since Friday.

Among the dead were mostly children and elderly people, according to regional humanitarian chief Abdullahi Omar Roble.

The government also warns that widespread hunger "makes people vulnerable to exploitation, human rights abuses and to criminal and terrorist networks."

The UN humanitarian appeal for Somalia in 2017 is $864 million. That would provide assistance to 3.9 million people. But the UN World Food Program recently requested an additional $26 million plan to respond to the drought.

The aid effort has been hampered by the government's military conflict with the radical Islamist group al-Shabab, which is preventing aid agencies from accessing part of the country.

bik/sms (AP, dpa)