SEATTLE The United Nations officially declared that a famine has hit a large section of Somalia, with severe drought conditions throughout the Horn of Africa. An estimated 10 million people have been affected in northeastern Kenya, Somalia and eastern Ethiopia. This is the first official famine in the region since 1984-85, when one million people died in Ethiopia and Sudan.
Famines mean a lack of resources to meet the basic food requirements for the population, acute malnutrition in more than 30 percent of the population and a death rate equal to five out of 10,000 people per day.
Somalia has not had rain for the past two years, and no rain is predicted until October. Without the rain, the people, who rely on agriculture for sustenance, have no food. At least 500,000 children from the region are at risk of death, according to UNICEF.
The challenges in Somalia are not new.
According to Dave Eller, president of World Concern, the nation has existed in an almost feudal system of government since the official government collapsed in the early 1990s. Militarized control of shifting regional governments has resulted in oppression.
"Somalia is like the wild, wild west," said Derek Sciba, marketing director of World Concern.
The nonprofit Christian relief organization based in Seattle has worked in the nation since the mid-1980s, digging wells to provide water, improving the agricultural system and teaching hygiene and sanitation practices.
"They are a people who live day to day under oppression," Eller said. "That is tragic enough without the effects of a drought placed upon them. It's not just that things are a little worse; this is a tragedy at the heart of the issue. Their children are dying."
Eller worries that people will grow tired of hearing about Somalia because it has been in desperate need for so many years.
"This situation is different," he said. "Before, the people were always able to pull together a little bit to eat. Their normal lives were just above the survival line, but now they have dropped below it. That demands a response from all of us."
With no infrastructure of communication, it is challenging to tell people where to go for supplies, food and water. Though starving, they put everything on their backs and leave their homes behind, not sure where to go, according to Eller. More than 1,300 people cross the border into Kenya each day, where an established refugee camp is already at 300 percent of its capacity.
World Concern is addressing the famine in several specific ways. It is bringing water, emergency food and survival supplies to southern Somalia, which has been inaccessible until recently because of high security risks. The organization is also extending its reach to northern Somalia and Kenya, with the primary goal of delivering water to families.
"The situation has been building for years," Eller said, explaining that the recent announcement by the United Nations brings the need into sharper focus and is an appeal for governments around the world to increase their response.
"It is the highest need in the world today," Eller said. "It is not a short-term problem like a hurricane or earthquake. This is the worst drought the region has seen in more than 60 years."
The United Nations is gathering relief organizations, including World Concern, to coordinate efforts to help the people of Somalia.
ACTIONPOINT: To find out how you can help, visit www.worldconcern.org/crisis or call (866) 530-5433.