DOLO, Somalia — Somalia’s famine will be five times worse by Christmas unless the international community increases its food aid, Australia’s foreign minister said Sunday during a visit to Somalia, even as the international Red Cross distributed 400 tons of food into hard-to-reach areas of southern Somalia.
Kevin Rudd was in Somalia’s famine-struck area of Dolo to appeal to the world to help avoid a catastrophe. During his visit hundreds of women with small children in tow massed around a World Food Program sign-up table in hopes of qualifying for food aid. Rudd talked with internal refugees who have had little to eat in recent days.
World Food Program’s Executive Director Josette Sheeran said Sunday the program will open new feeding sites in and around Dolo by the end of the week. She said it is critical that WFP gets new funding to fight the three-pronged catastrophe of drought, conflict and high food prices.
WFP estimates more than 11.3 million people need aid across drought-hit regions in East Africa.
The U.S. last week announced it was giving an additional $28 million in emergency funding on top of the $431 million in assistance already given this year. Rudd suggested that the U.S. and European countries need to do more to avoid a massive number of deaths, despite the financial hardships those regions are experiencing.
“The reason we do it is it’s part of who we are,” Rudd said. “Part of America’s great standing around the world since World War II is it’s combination of hard power and soft power. … U.S. aid given around the world helps their standing in the world. It’s part of the American greatness that we’ve seen.”
The U.N. is set to greatly expand the areas in southern Somalia classified as famine, and because seasonal rains — if they take place — are still months away, officials say the situation is going to get much worse in coming weeks and months, one reason Rudd is pushing for countries to boost their aid donations.
“Six months from now will be too late. It’s as simple as that. Act now. Christmas is too late. This is an avoidable catastrophe if urgent action is taken today,” Rudd said.
The U.N. fears tens of thousands of people already have died in the famine in Somalia. Mothers are being forced to leave behind their weak children to die as they walk for days attempting to reach refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
A report by the United Nations refugee agency said that 18,432 Somalis had arrived at the Dollo Ado camp in Ethiopia this month and 13,000 tents are needed to meet the shelter needs of the influx of refugees. The camp now has nearly 114,500 Somali refugees.
The drought has created a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.
Earlier this week the U.N. said the southern Somali regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle are suffering from famine. Sheeran said Saturday that the famine areas are expanding.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday that it had managed to distribute 400 tons of food aid to needy Somalis in the southern region of Gedo. Gedo lies next to the famine stricken zones of Bakool and Lower Shabelle.