Famine in Horn of Africa May Lead to a Damaged Generation, UN Agency Says

Famine in the Horn of Africa that has killed tens of thousands of people risks leaving a generation of physically and mentally stunted children, the United NationsWorld Food Programme said.

“We face the prospect of a generation of children whose brains and bodies will be damaged if we cannot reach them with lifesaving nutritional support,” Josette Sheeran, the WFP’s executive director, said in a meeting in Rome today.

The east African region has suffered from two poor rainy seasons that have caused one of the worst droughts since 1950- 51, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The UN needs $1.6 billion in the next 12 months to provide aid to the region, FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said.

Malnutrition levels are soaring, and the WFP considers the famine in Somalia and nearby countries the most critical food emergency in the world, according to Sheeran, who visited the region yesterday. Somali women trying to reach refugee camps in Kenya are abandoning the bodies of their dead children along the roadside, Sheeran said.

The UN last week declared a famine in two regions of Somalia and estimates 12 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda require emergency assistance.

‘Life-and-Death Situation’

“The World Food Programme is currently reaching 11 million people throughout the Horn,” Sheeran said. “I was in Mogadishu, where we’re reaching 300,000 people, but thousands of people are arriving every day. We are in a life-and-death situation. I literally saw dozens of children who would not make it.”

Children have half-formed brains at birth and the remaining formation takes place in the first three years of life, a period when nutrition is key, according to Sheeran. Food prices in Somalia have more than tripled from a year ago because of scarcity, she said.

UN agencies need $300 million in the next two months for emergency aid, according to Diouf. The FAO has also called for $120 million in emergency agricultural assistance.

The World Bank said it will provide more than $500 million to assist drought victims in the famine region that may be used to rebuild livestock herds and help farmers resume planting for the next harvest.

Financial Assistance

European Union countries and the U.S. are in no position to give financial aid, unlike Persian Gulf nations, according to Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“We have two regions that are on the verge of default, let’s be clear,” Sachs said. “There is no money there. If we’re serious about mobilizing adequate resources in a short time, I hope we look to the Gulf states. That’s the only place where the money is today.”

Military conflict in Somalia is aggravating the effects of drought, according to Mohamed Ibrahim, the country’s deputy prime minister. Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for WFP work, and the agency has lost 14 relief workers there since 2008, Sheeran said at a press conference in Rome.

“The fragility of the state and the enduring conflict, which hinder the supply of basic necessities, makes the situation deteriorate faster than anyone can imagine,” Ibrahim said at the Rome meeting.

Food Security

The famine shows the need to invest in agriculture and help developing economies improve food security, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said. France, which holds the presidency of the Group of 20 countries this year, called the Rome meeting.

“World public opinion has seen these images before, has seen other famines before,” Le Maire said. “I clearly see the trend toward resignation and indifference. France considers that hunger is a scandal of our times. If we don’t take the necessary decisions, hunger will be the scandal of tomorrow.”

Governments and aid donors have neglected agricultural research, and farmers need better crops that are adapted to climate change, said Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

“In this part of the world, drought is becoming ever more frequent,” Nwanze said. “With drought comes hunger, desperation and death. If we do not act now to build this resilience in anticipation of the next drought, we will have failed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net.

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