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More than 17 million people may starve in Horn of Africa, warns UN

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 21 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2208
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1 Geneva

    The United Nations and international aid organisations have warned that more than 17 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk of starvation if donors worldwide do not step up their support.

    John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, last week described the situation as “very worrying in most places.”

    In Somalia the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance is estimated at 3.5 million, up from about 2.6 million in June, Sir John said.

    In neighbouring Ethiopia, he said, the number of people who need emergency help was recently revised upwards to 6.4 million people from 4.6 million in June.

    The global children’s agency Unicef said that in Somalia some 180 000 children are acutely malnourished and 26 000 severely so and in need of immediate help. In Ethiopia the government estimates that 84 200 children need emergency nutritional intervention, says Unicef.

    Sir John said that although some donors, such as the British government, have responded generously, a further $260m (£150m; €200m) is needed to maintain the emergency feeding programme for the next three months.

    “People are coming forward, but the needs are increasing all the time,” he said.

    However, Oxfam International said that the revised UN projection of what is needed in Ethiopia “is likely to be a conservative estimate and does not include the 7.2 million Ethiopians so chronically poor that they receive cash or food aid from the government every year.”

    The aid group Care International said that the global financial crisis is pushing the fate of 17 million people in Africa down the list of priorities.

    “We’re living in a world of global volatility, and we need to have a road map on how to confront hunger,” said Jonathan Mitchell, emergency director at Care International, who recently returned from Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the hardest hit countries. “For the 17 million people facing starvation in the Horn of Africa it’s too late for mitigation measures. We need to act now to prevent a full scale humanitarian catastrophe.”

    Sir John said that the situation in Somalia had been aggravated by severe drought, high food prices (up by 200% to 300%), and the effect of the armed conflict, which “is getting worse.”

    He described Somalia as “very hard and very dangerous” and “the most difficult and dangerous place at the moment in the world.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2208

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