UN warns of severe food crisis in Horn of Africa

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The Independent Online

The worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa has sparked a severe food crisis and high malnutrition rates, with parts of Kenya and Somalia experiencing pre-famine conditions, the UN said yesterday.

More than 10 million people are now affected in drought-stricken areas of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda and the situation is deteriorating, it said. "Two consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in one of the driest years since 1950/51 in many pastoral zones," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said. "There is no likelihood of improvement [in the situation] until 2012," she added.

Food prices have risen substantially in the region, pushing many moderately poor households over the edge, she said. A UN map of food security in the eastern Horn of Africa shows large areas of central Kenya and Somalia in the "emergency" category, one phase before what the organisation classifies as catast-rophe/famine – the fifth and worst category.

Child malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas are more than double the emergency threshold of 15 per cent and are expected to rise, Ms Byrs said. High mortality rates among children are also reported.

Drought and fighting are driving ever greater numbers of Somalis from their homeland, with more than 20,000 arriving in Kenya in just the past two weeks, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said. It voiced alarm at the dramatic rise, noting the average monthly outflow had been about 10,000 so far this year.

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