LONDON Dec 6 (Reuters) - The crisis in Horn of Africa which has left more
than 13 million people at risk of starvation will continue into the spring,
and possibly the summer, the European Union's top aid official said on
European Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the Sahel
region faced "very dramatic hunger" next year and feared some countries
there were ignoring the problem.
The Horn of Africa crisis, triggered by the worst drought in decades, has
affected Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
Georgieva said around 250,000 people were at risk of dying from hunger in
Somalia, where the country's two-decade war has exacerbated the famine.
The situation is critical in central and southern Somalia where al
Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab rebels banned 16 relief agencies last week from
areas they control.
"The crisis is going to be there at least through the spring and possibly
all the way to the summer," the commissioner told a media briefing in London
ahead of talks with British development minister Andrew Mitchell.
Georgieva said she was extremely concerned about the famine's long-term
repercussions on the region because of the vast numbers of Somalis who had
fled to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen. Instability in Somalia
meant they were unlikely to return home once the crisis was over.
The commissioner said there were probably 400,000 to 500,000 Somalis in
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country which is also plagued by unrest. The
figure is twice the official estimate.
"The flow of refugees from poor country to poor country has stability and
security implications," she added.
Georgieva said the famine showed governments and donors must do more to
prevent droughts becoming full-blown humanitarian crises.
"The Horn of Africa drought ... is a wake-up call on how much more we need
to do to anticipate and prevent droughts turning into killers. We cannot
stop droughts but we can stop famines," she said.
FEARS OVER MALI
Turning to the Sahel, she said the looming hunger crisis there was likely to
be even worse than that in 2010 because the surrounding region was also
expected to suffer food problems and would not act as a buffer.
She said there were even concerns that northern Nigeria could be affected.
Niger and Mauritania have already issued alerts following erratic rainfall,
droughts and insect infestations.
Although they are likely to be the worst-hit countries, Georgieva said both
were "looking at the problem with open eyes" and taking precautions
including stockpiling food.
"I'm more worried about Mali, and even Burkino Faso, because there seems to
be a bit of a desire there to wish the crisis away," she said.
But the commissioner said the crisis in the arid region south of the Sahara
desert would not be of the magnitude seen in the Horn of Africa, partly
because donors were mobilising now. The Commission has already provided 55
million euros ($74 million) for the region.
"Investing now is not only morally the right thing to do, but it will cut
costs in the future," she added.
She contrasted the 30 euros ($40) it cost to feed a family in Niger for a
month to the 220 euros ($295) it cost to treat just one child with acute
malnutrition - a condition which would handicap it for life.
"It's unfortunate that very often the massive response comes when the crisis
is already deep and on the six o'clock news," she added. "We have to be
ready to act independently of the news cycle."
Georgieva said that in the Horn of Africa the benefits of investing in
disaster prevention were clear to see in Moyale in northern Kenya.
The district avoided the worst affects of the drought by installing roofs
that allow people to store water, setting up mobile clinics to prevent child
malnutrition and encouraging pastoralists to shrink their herds
proportionate to the available grassland.
"The results are very impressive. The question is why we don't do this
everywhere," Georgieva said. (Editing by Rebekah Curtis and Robert Woodward)
(Emma Batha reports for AlertNet, a global humanitarian news service run by
Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more stories and information, visit
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Received on Tue Dec 06 2011 - 16:15:27 EST