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.
Yves Van Loo, the ICRC spokesman for the Somali delegation, said that 24,000 people or about 4,000 families received food rations, which consists of rice beans and oil that are meant last them for one month.
He said ICRC has been operating for 20 years in Somalia and had not pulled out.
"We have been present in Somalia for the last 20 years and we have never had any problem with any authorities," he said.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991 when longtime dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other. Currently, Islamist militants are attempting to overthrow a weak U.N.-backed government.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militia, the most dangerous militant group in the country, has exacerbated the drought crisis saying that it will prevent international aid workers from operating in the territories it controls in southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab signaled in early July that it would accept aid groups it had previously banned, but changed course on Thursday. The group denies a famine is taking place, disputing the U.N.'s view that tens of thousands of people have already died.
The renewed threat from al-Shabab means only a handful of agencies will be able to respond to the hunger crisis in militant-controlled areas of southern Somalia. And the largest provider of food aid _ the U.N. World Food Program _ isn't among those being allowed inside.
(This version CORRECTS Adds quote on U.S. assistance and details of Rudd's prediction. Corrects sequence of the name Van Loo Yves to Yves Van Loo in the 13th paragraph.)