Somalia Famine Aid Trickles In

Aid groups working to address the worsening famine in Somalia have seen donations come in at rates far below that seen in other recent humanitarian crises, the New York Times reports.

Competing for public attention with a number of national and global crises, including the legislative dispute over raising the U.S. debt ceiling and the deadly terrorist attack in Norway, the famine in the Horn of Africa has yet to receive extensive media coverage — one reason, say observers, for the underwhelming response from donors. Since the United Nations formally declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia last week, however, relief agencies have seen an uptick in donations.

To date, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF has raised about $5.1 million of the $300 million that UNICEF estimates it will need over the next six months to provide food and care for children in affected areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, while Oxfam, which hopes to raise more than $70 million for famine relief efforts, has received about $36 million, the majority from European donors. Portland-based Mercy Corps, which is working to assist refugees fleeing Somalia to a camp in northeast Kenya, has raised about $700,000, which is in addition to the $1.5 million contract it won from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Somalia, which is reeling from one of the driest years on record, is an especially challenging country to support in times of crisis, in part because of U.S. government restrictions that make it illegal to assist regions under the control of a terrorist group, in this case the Islamist group known as al-Shabaab. As a result, many relief organizations have been reluctant to venture into the two areas where the UN has declared a famine, the Times reports. In light of the worsening humanitarian crisis, however, some al-Shabaab leaders have begun to reach out to aid groups.

Still, despite significant regional support, relief agencies say aid has yet to reach levels seen in other recent disasters. "It's even slower for us than Pakistan was," said Mercy Corps spokesman Jeremy Barnicle. "The slow-onset emergencies are always hard because they lack the immediacy of an act of nature, but they are just as devastating."

Stephanie Strom. "Off Media Radar, Famine Garners Few Donations." New York Times 08/01/2011. Jeffrey Gettleman. "Somalis Waste Away as Insurgents Block Escape From Famine." New York Times 08/01/2011.