NAIROBI (AFP) ― The International Red Cross said Sunday it had handed out 400 tons of food in drought-hit parts of rebel-held southern Somalia as the UN prepares to host emergency talks on the crisis in the region.
“The distribution took place in the Bardera district and passed without incident, with the knowledge of the authorities and the recipients,” ICRC spokesman Yves Van Loo told AFP in Nairobi.
It is the first ICRC-led food drop direct to locals in Shebab-controlled zones since 2009, he said, adding that further food drops will take place in the coming days.
Gedo province lies next to southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, the two areas the United Nations declared this week as the worst hit by famine.
UN officials say that over the past few months, tens of thousands of people have already been killed by the worst drought in 60 years.
It has wrought havoc in war-torn Somalia but has also hit more widely in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. Across the Horn of Africa, UN officials fear that 12 million people face starvation.
International aid agencies are scrambling to find ways to deliver food supplies to those living in the epicenter, parts of Somalia controlled by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group Shebab.
The ICRC said it had distributed 400 tons of food supplies, including oil, rice and beans, to about 4,000 families or about 24,000 people in Gedo province on Saturday.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has called on donor countries to come up with $1.6 billion in aid for the two regions.
And on Monday, the UN food agency the Food and Agriculture Organization will host emergency talks on the crisis in Rome.
“This is an emergency ministerial meeting that is prompted by the escalation of the famine,” said Cristina Amaral, head of emergency operations in Africa for the FAO. “We’re afraid that things will get worse in the coming months if nothing is done now.”
Among those expected to attend are ministers from Djibouti, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda, the head of the World Food Program Josette Sheeran and Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking.
The World Food program was forced to leave southern Somalia last year following a series of curbs and threats from the Shebab.
The militants this month said foreign aid groups could return to the area but on Friday a Shebab spokesman said the ban was still in place.
The Shebab, designated a terrorist group by the United States, have waged a bloody campaign to overthrow the country’s Western-backed government.
But EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said Sunday she was hopeful that, with the help of local communities, humanitarian assistance would still get through.
“In Somalia, there are places where local communities are welcoming humanitarian aid,” the commissioner said.
“Even in areas of the Shebab at the end of the day it is the local people who can say enough is enough,” she added.
On Saturday she visited Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex, across the border in Kenya.
“I was here to announce major new funding for the Horn of Africa crisis,” she wrote in her blog at the European Commission website.
“Within a few weeks from now I fervently hope that the European Commission’s contribution this year will have leapt to 160 million euros ($230 million).”
“I was humbled by the indomitable spirit of these fugitives from famine,” she added.
“I met a visibly exhausted young couple who had walked for days with their eight children ― the youngest just three months old...,” who were now getting the help they needed, she wrote.
“They were just one family among 20,000 gathered on the outskirts of the camp,” she added.
Refugees from Somalia continue to stream daily into the camp in eastern Kenya, a vast and overcrowded complex sheltering some 380,000 people.
Experts say the effects of two failed rainy seasons in the region have been exacerbated by the rapid rise in the costs of fuel and food.
These factors, together with the conflict in Somalia, have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Long-term solutions for the crisis ― such as assistance to livestock farmers and the introduction of more drought-resistant crops ― are also set to be discussed at Monday’s meeting in Rome.