, MOGADISHU, Jul 19 – Somalis stranded in war-ravaged Mogadishu pleaded for drought relief Monday, as the UN called an emergency meeting to tackle what Britain’s premier described as the region’s worst catastrophe in a generation.
The severe drought parching east Africa has left 10 million facing hunger and the scope of one of the world’s worst unfolding humanitarian disasters conjured up memories of Ethiopia’s devastating 1984 famine.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that what we are seeing today is the most catastrophic situation in that region for a generation,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a press conference in South Africa.
“Tens of thousands may have died already, many of them children under five,” he said in Pretoria, at the start of an African tour.
Britain on Saturday promised £52 million (59 million euro, $73 million) in emergency aid, and Cameron urged other nations to follow suit.
The UN food agency on Monday announced that a meeting on the crisis would be held on July 25 at its Rome headquarters.
“The meeting will be next Monday 25th here at FAO” following a request from France in its role as head of the G20 group of leading world economies, said Erwin Northoff, a spokesman for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled their country to seek assistance in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, but many could only make it to Mogadishu, often considered the world’s most dangerous city.
In the overcrowded Mogadishu camp of Badbado, people say they are in dire need of food for survival.
“The aid agencies are concentrating on feeding those who fled Somalia to neighbouring countries,” said Ahmed Abdullahi. “They are less helpful to those inside.”
“Some of us can’t reach Kenya,” said Mumina Mohamed, a mother from the Lower Shabelle region. “It is too far, and difficult to come back home later.”
Stories of how aid groups are providing more supplies in neighbouring countries are common amongst those seeking shelter in Mogadishu.
“I am sure there are plenty of aid agencies in Kenya with a lot of food,” said Maryam Abduqadir, a mother from Bay region.
At the Badbado camp, a Qatari aid agency provides food twice a day, but supplies are rapidly running out.
“The need of the people here is too much,” said aid official Duraan Ahmed Farah. “We need more help, to get more aid agencies in, including the UN.”
People here were aware that a volatile security situation meant there was little hope of large-scale humanitarian intervention.
Large areas of southern Somalia are controlled by the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels, who only recently lifted a two-year-old ban on foreign relief groups.
The first UN airlift into rebel held areas landed on Wednesday in the town of Baidoa, containing five metric tonnes of food and medicine.
But as major Western donors grappled with dire debt crises and aid agencies begged for funds, Cameron argued that trade deals could be more useful to Africa in the long run than aid.
“In the past, there were marches in the West to drop the debt. There were concerts to increase aid. And it was right that the world responded,” Cameron wrote in an article in South Africa’s Business Daily ahead of his arrival.
“But they have never once had a march or a concert to call for what will in the long term save far more lives and do far more good — an African free trade area.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s adviser on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs, argued at a press conference in Nairobi that the human consequences of Africa’s droughts were avoidable.
“We’ve been warning, almost day in and day out, of the growing calamity of the dry lands of Africa, and most of this has fallen on deaf ears in Europe and the United States among people who should know better,” he said.
“We can never address these problems through emergency response. We have to solve these problems through prevention,” Sachs said. “Prevention means development, especially sustainable development.