World UNHCR In Somalia 'Human Tragedy' Warning

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Aug 18, 2010
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UNHCR in Somalia 'human tragedy' warning

Many young children are in such a weak condition it is difficult to save their lives

The levels of malnutrition among children fleeing Somalia's drought could lead to a "human tragedy of unimaginable proportions", the UN refugee head Antonio Guterres has said.

Young children are dying on their way to or within a day of arrival at camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, the UNHCR says. It estimates that a quarter of Somalis are either displaced within the country or living outside as refugees.

The drought is compounded by the violence in south and central Somalia.

The warning comes as the UK aid agencies Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Red Cross launch emergency appeals in response to the food crisis which is affecting more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa.

The agencies are collectively asking for nearly $150m (£93m). The UNHCR says the need for food, shelter, health services and other life saving aid is urgent and massive.

New camp opened
According the UN refugee agency, more than 50% of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia are seriously malnourished.
In Kenya that figure is between 30% and 40%.

"What is the most tragic for us to witness, is that there are children who do arrive in such a weakened state that despite our emergency care and therapeutic feeding, they're dying within 24 hours," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a press briefing in Geneva.

"We estimate that one quarter of Somalia's 7.5 million people are now either internally displaced or are living outside the country as refugees," she said.

The UNHCR recently opened a third camp in south-eastern Ethiopia, which is quickly reaching its capacity of 20,000, and is now planning further camps.

A relief plane chartered by the agency is flying to Addis Ababa on Tuesday and a convoy of 20 trucks carrying tents and other aid is on its way as well.

In north-east Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, some 1,400 refugees are arriving every day. Ms Fleming said there was no sign of the exodus of Somalis ending.

"The relentless violence that's compounded by a terrible drought has forced more than 135,000 Somalis to flee Somalia so far this year," she said.

"In June alone, 54,000 people fled across the two borders, and that is three times the number [of people who fled] in May. So this is a huge spike."

Somalia has been racked by constant war for more than 20 years - its last functioning national government was toppled in 1991.


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