March 8, 2006

Tens of thousands face death in drought-hit Somalia

By Jack Kimball

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Drought-stricken Somalia could face a
new famine on the scale of the catastrophe that killed tens of
thousands of people in the early 1990s, a food security analyst
told Reuters on Wednesday.

If the rains do not come, more than 10,000 people could die
each month, said Nicholas Haan, chief technical advisor for the
Food Security Analysis Unit, a project of the European Union
and the U.S. government.

"The southern part of Somalia would be at high risk of
famine conditions, high risk meaning we estimate an over 50
percent probability it's going to happen," Haan said.

"If our high risk prediction is correct, it would be
comparable to what we saw in '93 to '94 in Somalia."

Tens of thousands of Somalis perished in a famine that
decimated the country in the early 1990s.

Since the ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991
hundreds of thousands have died from famine, disease and
conflict as the country plunged into anarchy.

There are at least 1.7 million Somalis affected by drought
of a population of 10 million.

Haan said using the technical definition of famine as four
deaths per 10,000 people per day, Somalia could see 12,000
deaths per month in those devastated areas.

"This is manifesting itself as what could be a major
humanitarian catastrophe of historic nature," Haan said.

Hundreds of people and tens of thousands of livestock have
died from hunger and thirst across a vast region encompassing
some of Africa's poorest and most arid zones.

Experts have said recent heavy rains in central and east
Africa were not the start of the rainy season and drought
conditions would persist.

The United Nations estimates that at least 6.25 million
people are in need of immediate food aid across east and
central Africa because of drought.

Haan said that by mid-May it should be known for certain
where the situation is heading, but conflict could exacerbate
the problem and create famine conditions.

The Somali interim government, formed in 2004, would be
hard pressed to cope with a disaster on such proportions.