Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Horn of Africa Drought

1 August 2011

Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Horn of Africa Drought

1 August 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Horn of Africa Drought


With more than $1 billion in aid still needed, images emerging from the Horn of Africa of starving women and children must serve as a “wake-up call” to donors, said the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today, as she briefed correspondents on that region’s worst drought in 60 years.

Tens of thousands had already died in Somalia — the heart of the crisis — said Valerie Amos, who is also the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  She added that, with the situation intensifying, hundreds of thousands more now faced starvation.  Overall, an estimated 12.4 million people were in need of assistance in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti; a state of famine had been declared in two regions of Somalia in recent weeks and, unless there was a “massive increase” in response, it could spread to five or six more regions.

“It’s hard to imagine the horror of mothers forced to leave their infants behind to die” as they trekked for weeks to reach the relative safety of refugee camps, said Ms. Amos.  Those haunting images should serve as a catalyst for an urgent redoubling of funding, she added.

The crisis was further exacerbated in Somalia by the country’s ongoing violent conflict.  There were armed groups rejecting the presence of aid workers on the ground, said Ms. Amos.  There was particular concern that conflict could disrupt the work of World Food Programme (WFP) feeding centres that had been set up throughout the capital, Mogadishu, but that had not happened to date.

The drought, which was the region’s worst in decades, “did not take [the United Nations] by surprise”, she said.  In 2010, the Organization had appealed for $1.6 billion in aid to avert the crisis, and, as of last week, more than $1 billion of those funds had been raised.  Added to that was an appeal in 2011 for $1.4 billion.  While some in the media had questioned why more prevention efforts — including structural improvements — had not been made, many new programmes had, in fact, helped to lessen the impact of the disaster.  Employment programmes in Kenya, among others projects, had helped people to lift themselves out of poverty and avoid the worst of the crisis.

While such efforts had been carried out across the region, said Ms. Amos, much more remained to be done. “We know what we have to do, but we need to do it more consistently and on a greater scale,” she stressed.  Airlifts of aid were arriving, way stations were in place and relationships had been established with local communities to manage and streamline assistance.

However, the international community was the “third line of defence” in such a crisis, with national Governments and institutions, as well as regional organizations, bearing the primary responsibility, she said.  But those bodies — like the affected population itself — were “weak and malnourished”.  Additionally, without peace in Somalia, success would remain limited. 

Bearing in mind the regional context, said Ms. Amos, aid should come both from the international community and from neighbours in the affected region.  “It’s very important that the continent is seen as helping itself,” she emphasized.  To that end, the African Union was planning a regional funding conference, slated to take place this month.  The United Nations would spare no effort to ensure that the meeting was a success; “this is a crisis that we all must address”.

Many correspondents asked questions about the situation in other countries across the region.  In the case of Eritrea — where no humanitarian organization had been able to operate since 2005 — data on the effects of the drought were extremely limited, said Ms. Amos.  Eritrea had issued statements saying that there was no crisis in the country, but there was anecdotal information that that was not the case.  In response to a question about whether the political crisis in Libya had dried up any humanitarian funding from that country, she stressed that there was no evidence that Libyan money had ever been used to support relief work.  

Much credit should go to Kenya and Ethiopia for keeping their borders open to the influx of refugees, she said, responding to several questions about the involvement of those countries in the relief effort.  In addition to supplying aid in Mogadishu — where starving people were arriving from all over Somalia — the overall humanitarian strategy also involved aid distribution at the Kenyan border.  Kenya was also working to provide aid to some 800,000 of its own citizens, and had agreed to open another camp to absorb additional refugees, she added.

Meanwhile, the number of people arriving in Ethiopia was falling as aid flows had been diverted to Mogadishu.  However, needs were now intensifying in south and central Somalia.  The International Red Cross and Red Crescent had managed to feed some 160,000 people in those areas, and Ms. Amos said she hoped that success would continue.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.