United Nations officials said desperate mothers in Somalia are abandoning their dying children by the roadside as they travel to already crowded emergency food centers in the drought-hit East African region.
The executive director of the UN World Food Program, Josette Sheeran said a combination of natural disaster and regional conflict is affecting more than 12 million people.
“We are seeing all the points able to distribute food completely overwhelmed,” she said. An example is a camp in Dadaab, Kenya, built for 90,000 people but presently housing 400,000.
“We want to make sure the supplies are there along the road because some of them are becoming roads of death where mothers are having to abandon their children who are too weak to make it or who have died along the way,” she said.
The women and children are the most at risk in the crisis, which she called the “children’s famine” given the number of children at risk of death or permanent stunting of their brains and bodies due to hunger.
Sheeran said the WFP will feed 2.5 million malnourished children while trying to raise money for more.
“We’ve heard of women making the horrible choice of leaving behind their weaker children to save the stronger ones or having children die in their arms,” she said.
Ministers and senior officials met at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome yesterday to discuss how to mobilize aid following the worst drought in decades in a region stretching from Somalia to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
The WFP said it needed an extra $360 million in urgent funds. Oxfam, a confederation of 15 organizations working together to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice, said that overall another $1 billion was needed to handle the situation.
The World Bank said in a statement that it was providing more than $500 million to assist drought victims, in addition to $12 million in immediate aid to help those worst hit.
Governments worldwide and the UN have been criticized for their slow response to the severe drought, but they face problems getting aids to a region of a raging conflict across much of southern Somalia.
Years of anarchic conflict in southern Somalia have exacerbated the emergency, preventing aid agencies from helping communities in the area. Nearly 135,000 Somalis have fled since January, mainly to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
The WFP has said it cannot reach more than 2 million Somalis facing starvation in areas controlled by Islamist militants, who imposed a food aid ban in 2010 and have regularly threatened relief groups.