Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 20:34 GMT
Famine looms in southern Somalia
Up to 300,000 Somalians could face famine
By Cathy Jenkins in Badera
Aid workers in Badera in southern Somalia say that up to 300,000 people could face famine because of drought.
The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says there is now a famine situation across the Bay, Bakool and Geddo regions which has forced families to abandon their villages.
It says agencies providing food have planned for a crisis, but the situation will get much worse if rains don't arrive in six weeks, when they are due.
Unicef's Mohammed Alasow says the makeshift settlement on the edge of Badera has grown over the past week.
Unicef says that up to 15 families are arriving daily in Badera to camp near the river where they can get water.
The woman, Amviya Avvow, said the whole village had come to Badera in the hope of getting food. She said that her field of sorghum would normally be enough to feed her family, but flooding followed by drought had destroyed everything.
She says that to survive in Badera, her family gathers wood to sell, but that however big the bundles, she gets only 500 Somali shillings (just over $0.50) and with that she can buy only some tea leaves and sugar.
Sorghum belt destroyed
It has been a catastrophic time for farmers. Gedoo, Bay and Bakool are in the sorghum belt which should feed southern and central Somalia. But the floods of 1997, which destroyed food stores, have been followed by drought.
When the October rains failed, many people did not even bother to plant.
Aid agencies say that so far the disaster has been contained because contingency plans had been made for a crisis.
But they say water is a big problem. In some cases, even when food aid can be delivered to villages, the people cannot stay there because their water supply has finished.
Nutritionist Nurta Ahmed Kadir says she has seen serious cases of malnourishment in children among the several thousand people who have abandoned their villages and arrived in Huddur and Bakool.
The displaced people are now pinning their hopes on the rains, which should allow them to plant and then harvest in July.
Unicef warns that if the rains don't come, hundreds of thousands of people face a famine disaster.
Recently, the United Nations World Food Programme said food aid was available, but delivery was being severely hampered by continued faction fighting, particularly in Bay and Bakool where the militia loyal to Hussein Aideed is fighting the Rahanwein Resistance Army.
The WFP said many parts of the country were too dangerous to work in because food aid trucks were looted and stolen by militiamen.
At least four people are reported to have been killed when lions attacked a camp of people displaced by famine in western Somalia.
A village elder identified the victims as a woman, her daughter and two elderly men. He said a number of others were injured.
They were among a large group moving towards Ethiopia in search of food and water, who scattered after the attack.