26 Jul 2011

Children most at risk in Somalia famine - UN

8:41 am on 26 July 2011

Desperate Somali mothers are abandoning their dying children by the roadside as they travel to overwhelmed emergency food centres in drought-hit eastern Africa, a UN aid official says.

UN World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran told a conference in Rome that emergency food distribution centres are overwhelmed.

A combination of natural disaster and regional conflict was affecting more than 12 million people, shesaid.

Ms Sheeran said a camp in Dadaab in Kenya that was built for 90,000 people now housed 400,000.

"We want to make sure the supplies are there along the road because some of them are becoming roads of death where mothers are having to abandon their children who are too weak to make it or who have died along the way," she said.

Women and children were among the most at risk in the crisis, Ms Sheeran said, calling it the "children's famine" given the number of children at risk of death or permanent stunting of their brains and bodies due to hunger.

The World Food Programme (WFP) will feed 2.5 million malnourished children and is trying to raise money for more, she said.

Ministers and senior officials met at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome on Monday to discuss how to mobilise aid following the worst drought in decades in a region stretching from Somalia to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

The WFP said it needed an extra $US360 million in urgent funds. Oxfam said that overall another $US1 billion was needed to handle the situation.

The World Bank said in a statement it was providing more than $US500 million to assist drought victims, in addition to $US12 million in immediate aid to help those worst hit.