Somalia famine aid hits the mark

The number of people affected by famine has dropped by two-thirds, according to the UNHCR, but there are still many lives at risk.

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DUBAI // Fewer people are dying of starvation in Somalia because of the injection of international aid over the past few months.

In November, the number of people affected by famine was 250,000 - two thirds less than the 750,000 reported in August, says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"There has been a massive outpouring of assistance and generosity from the GCC countries, Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, Turkey and the UAE," said Bruno Geddo, a Somalia representative from UNHCR who was in Dubai yesterday.

"As a result of this massive injection of assistance, the situation has improved."

The UAE raised more than Dh162 million in cash through telethons in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah this year.

The country also sent an aid ship carrying more than 400 tonnes of food, clothes and medicines in August. A number of local agencies also contributed separately.

"The UAE and its people have a history of contributing to the humanitarian community," said Shaima Al Zarooni, the chief executive of International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai.

Ms Al Zarooni's organisation helped to send more than 15 shipments of aid, worth more than Dh4m.

But the UNHCR warned aid agencies and countries "cannot afford to lower the guard" until September next year.

"There are still 3.3 million people in need of emergency lifesaving assistance in Somalia in the sectors of food, shelter, health and protection," said Mr Geddo.

"If we don't provide lifesaving assistance at the scale and intensity we've seen since August, they might relapse into a situation of famine."

Mr Geddo also urged the UAE and other GCC countries to continue buying goats, sheep and camels from Somalia.

"By sustaining the import of cattle from Somalia [not just] in relation to the various Muslim festivities but on a more sustained, regular level, [GCC countries] are making a tremendous contribution to the ability of Somali pastoralists to cope, to maintain their dignified lifestyle," he said.

In 2009, the Middle East accounted for 90 per cent of Somali livestock sales. The Somali government said it exported 2 million sheep a year, mostly to the UAE, Yemen and neighbouring countries.

Experts say Somalia can overcome the drought only if it has two good rain and agricultural seasons next year.

Last week, the UN said it would need another US$1.5 billion (Dh5.51bn) in aid - the biggest ever appeal for Somalia - to overcome the crisis next year.

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