Thousands may starve in 'forgotten' Somalia crisis

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Donors are failing to respond to the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Somalia, where more than 1.5 million people are on the brink of starvation, according to aid agencies operating in the region.

Millions of dollars have been raised for other countries of the Horn of Africa, where a series of successive droughts has cut a swath through livestock and sent malnutrition rates soaring.

Yet charities are warning that Somalia, already reeling from the effects of 15 years of conflict, risks being forgotten. "There has been a complete absence of support for Somalia - a country which is at high risk of a humanitarian catastrophe," said Tony Porter, director of emergencies at Save the Children.

Waterholes and pastureland have turned to dust across the Horn in the past two years. Five rainy seasons have come and gone without the downpours needed to replenish rivers and wetlands. Up to 80 per cent of cattle herds have died, dealing a devastating blow to the region's nomadic herding tribes. Many are now totally reliant on deliveries of food and water.

The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people are at risk of famine in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Dominic Nutt, Christian Aid's emergency specialist who recently returned from Somalia, said he found people begging for water at the side of the road. Thousands will die if the international community does not respond rapidly, he said. "The problem is that the money tends to follow TV. At the moment it is very dangerous for agencies to operate there, let alone journalists, so the pictures that make it on to the bulletins are largely from Kenya."

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, when Siad Barre's regime was toppled. Warlords have carved the country into a series of personal fiefdoms, making travel impossible without an armed escort.

The country is experiencing its worst drought in more than 40 years, but the Red Cross says it has only managed to raise 10 per cent of its £11m target for 2006. All now pin their hopes on rains due next month.