Famine pushes Somalis to brink of disaster
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Web posted at: 5:14 a.m. EST (1014 GMT)
MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- Flood and drought and ruined crops have sent thousands of Somalis on a desperate trek, searching for food, relief workers report.
Families, many carrying their starving children, are on the move in this East African nation of roughly eight million people.
Somali faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed said on Saturday the situation in southern Somalia was "disastrous."
"Thousands of Somalis are on the brink of starvation after a series of floods and drought ruined crops in the southern (crop growing) Juba region," Ali Mahdi said in a statement.
"People will die if there is no relief aid," said World Food Program monitor Muhiedin Moallim.
Feuding could hurt relief efforts
The European Union (EU) last Wednesday pledged $10 million in food aid "to avert the growing food security crisis" in Somalia. It said the 10,899 tons of food would be distributed through the U.N. food aid agency World Food Program (WFP).
"The food security situation has been deteriorating, with prolonged insecurity exacerbating the effects of El Nino floods. The last harvest produced less than half the expected output, the worst in a series of poor harvests," the EU said.
The EU is responding to a call from the United Nations for $18 million for emergency aid in food, nutrition and health.
"Continued insecurity is one of the main reasons for continued displacement and the increased vulnerability of populations," the U.N. said. Its view was confirmed by Ali Mahdi, who said faction feuding could harm relief efforts.
No government for Somalis
Somalia has been without a government since 1991 when forces loyal to Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi combined to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre -- and then turned on each other in clan-based bloodletting.
Famine killed as many as 300,000 people after the 1991 crisis. Somalia has suffered a series of failed harvests since and many of its people have lived on U.N. handouts.
In this western Somalia town, events confirmed fighting and natural disasters had robbed people of food. Militia loyal to Hussein Aideed have just been ousted by the local Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) in factional fighting. The cost: dozens of lives lost and hundreds of people on the run.
Tattered and hungry, hundreds of Somalis emerged from scrubland around this hot and dusty town, reacting to rumours that the U.N. planned food distributions.
They were among Somalis who fled the town three weeks ago after fighting erupted between Aideed and RRA militia.
Children carrying children
A local elementary school, turned into a temporary camp, hosted returnees whose houses and businesses have been burnt or looted. One 12-year-old girl, with her two-year-old sister on her back, wept as she sifted through the debris of what was her home just two months ago.
Inside the school, which Aideed's militia had turned into a military barracks, children played with empty bullet catridges, their parents at a distance pondering the future.
In the village of Tiyeglow, 90 km (56 miles) from Hoddur, chaos greeted the first WFP food consignment in three months. Menacing local militia, automatic rifles at the ready, kept hundreds of the hungry jostling for a "better" place on the queue in line.
More than 40,000 people in Tiyeglow are at risk of starvation, said Moallim.
He said: "This is an emergency. The area of Bay and Bakool experienced crop failure for the last three years so the situation looks bad."
WFP says the Somalis were moving en masse to coastal areas and to the southern border with Kenya. It estimates that 700,000 Somalis are facing imminent food shortages, with some 300,000 in central Somalia most at risk.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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