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Famine is over, but Somalia still struggles

The UN warns that Somalia's population needs emergency aid amid growing mortality rates because of domestic turbulence caused by the Islamist Shebab fighters and Al-Qaeda, coinciding with famine zones declared earlier

AFP, Friday 17 Feb 2012
Somalia
Hundreds of Somali families flee on tracks from al-Shabaab in Mogadishu following al Qaeda's declaration that the militant group was joining its ranks February 16, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
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Famine is over in war-torn Somalia but the problems are not: Haweyo Ibrahim survives on meagre food aid handouts rather than return to her village, controlled by Shebab rebels who killed her husband.

"Until the Shebab leave, I cannot go back," 40-year old Ibrahim said, queuing for food aid handouts in the anarchic Somali capital Mogadishu.

"I cannot go back to where they murdered my husband," she added quietly.

Ibrahim fled Somalia's southern Bay region a year ago, after Al-Qaeda allied Shebab fighters murdered her husband, because he "refused to be conscripted" by the rebels to fight against the Western-backed government in Mogadishu.

Already struggling to survive from an extreme drought -- with famine zones later declared by the United Nations in July -- she trekked into Mogadishu with her 10 children, along with some 185,000 others in desperate search of aid.

Tens of thousands are believed to have died during the famine, according to the United Nations.

Famine conditions were declared over earlier this month, but one year on since Ibrahim and her children -- like so many others -- fled into Mogadishu, and despite massive international aid efforts, the conditions remain grim.

A third of Somalia's population need emergency aid and the mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, the UN warns.

At least 2.34 million people still need support across Somalia, while experts fear hunger will grow in the lean period before the next harvest in the conflict-ridden Horn of Africa nation.

The Shebab insurgents that killed Ibrahim's husband still control much of south and central Somalia, despite a military surge by African Union troops and regional armies against them.

Alongside Ibrahim, several hundred queue in the scorching heat, waiting for a hot meal offered every day from the World Food Programme (WFP), amidst the ruins of war-damaged buildings in central Mogadishu.

WFP is providing food for 363,000 people in Mogadishu -- 37,000 more than in August when the world realised the sheer magnitude of the crisis --- and 1.3 million across Somalia, out of its 8 million people.

"This food is my only means of survival," said Mohubo Abdirashid, who also fled conflict and famine into Mogadishu.

But there are moves for the people to go home.

Dahabo Hassan Habeeb, living in a simple hut of branches and tarpaulins in a cramped camp beside Mogadishu's airport, would consider returning to her home in the southern Lower Shabelle region, where she fled from in July.

But she would do so only if the hardline Shebab -- notorious for their draconian restrictions on foreign aid agencies --- allow the return, and allow her family help.

"All our animals died in the drought," she said.

The United Nations has launched a project to support and encourage people to go home: it is hoped that 4,000 families can be supported initially, with efforts extended to 200,000 people in coming months.

"So far, it seems there is no objection from the Al-Shebab... they have always promoted self-sufficiency," Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, told AFP.

A third of the $1.5 billion (1.14 m euros) requested by the UN for Somalia this year will go to this form of assistance, designed to support people begin to stand alone, away from emergency handout aid.

"We have to support more creatively in order to reduce dependency," Bowden said.

That support will include buying livestock for some of those left without livelihood after their animals died in the drought.

"There is an increasingly destitute population in town, there is no more resilience in the Somali economy, and people cannot go through another dry season," Bowden said.

"The only resilience is coming from the diaspora," he added, with Somali's abroad sending millions of dollars back to family at home forming the main source of national income.

But, as final preparations are made ahead of a February 23 London conference to tackle Somalia's myriad problems and mobilise international players, Bowden warned of the challenges ahead.

"Somalia will require humanitarian assistance for many years" he said.

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