UN struggling to cope with East Africa drought

By the Associated Press | July 12, 2011 | 7:14 AM EDT

Sheik Yare Abdi washes the body of four-year-old Aden Ibrahim in preparation for burial in accordance with Somali tradition, inside the makeshift shelter where Aden's family lives amongst other newly-arrived Somali refugees on the outskirts of Ifo II Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Doctors were unable to save Aden, who died of diarrhea-related dehydration after four days of inpatient care. U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world, after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. People die here every day, though no one can provide a reliable estimate of the drought deaths.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

GENEVA (AP) — U.N. officials sounded the alarm Tuesday about a deepening crisis in East Africa, saying they are struggling to cope with the number of people on the move in the region because of the severe drought and continued fighting in Somalia.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva that the U.N. is unable to say how many people are on the move in East Africa right now but "the prognosis looks very poor indeed at the moment" for helping all of those in dire need.

Edwards said thousands of people, mostly Somalis, are arriving at the Dadaab camp in Kenya alone each week.

The World Health Organization said children are at particular risk, with child malnutrition rates rising steeply in recent months. The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said 65,000 children in Kenya alone are at acute risk of dying.

World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran said the drought has left millions hungry, farmers at risk of losing their livelihoods and the lives of hundreds of thousands of children at risk.

She said WFP is urgently scaling up food deliveries, but the agency must come up with $189 million more in donations to cover the $477 million that it needs to provide the help that is required in the Horn of Africa.

Shamsul Bari, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Somalia, said in a statement Tuesday that the situation is "markedly worse" than in March, when he complained the world was slow to react, and that thousands of Somalis are fleeing to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti every day.

Bari warned that nations must immediately step in to provide broad assistance or millions of people will starve to death in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Somalis are experiencing "the most acute humanitarian tragedy in the world today," Bari said, because of violence and severe drought.

Olivier De Schutter, the U.N.'s special investigator on the right to food, said 10 million in northern Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan are at immediate risk of starvation because of the worst regional drought in 60 years.