Eastern Africa: States pledge immediate assistance to Somali crisis
29 July 2011

A refugee camp in Dollo Ado, southeastern Ethiopia, where 1,700 refugees arrive each day from Somalia. (UNHCR)
"While responding to the most urgent needs is of paramount importance, we also need to start planning medium and long-term responses."
Nairobi, 29 July 2011 – The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) called on states to contribute 300 million US dollars for emergency relief over the next three months and a further 1.6 billion US dollars over the next 12 months.

The emergency meeting, held in Rome at the request of the French Presidency of the Group of 20, discussed ways of alleviating the suffering of more than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa's worst drought in 60 years. So far states have pledged more than one billion US dollars.

"The Rome conference demonstrates the international community is reacting, showing solidarity and trying to find ways to ease the situation – which is positive. However, these statements and assessments will be meaningless if not translated into concrete action on the ground", said JRS Eastern Africa Director, Frido Pflueger SJ.

"For now, immediate action needs to be taken to make sure those suffering get access to food from where they are. Ethiopia and Kenya have been very generous in hosting hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees but they are clearly overstrained and need support in dealing with their own drought-affected population," added Fr Pflueger.

While Kenya had announced to open a fourth camp in the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in the country's northeast, the government revoked the decision earlier this week, citing insecurity as their main concern. It suggested refugees fleeing the drought be taken care of on the Somali side of the border instead.

JRS focus on medium term response

"Although the Somali crisis has been triggered by drought and high food prices, a functioning state would have been better placed to respond to these fluctuations. What makes this a crisis is the conflict. While responding to the most urgent needs is of paramount importance, we also need to start planning medium and long-term responses", said Fr Pflueger.

"The world can't continue to only start acting once people are starving. The governments of affected, as well as donor, countries have to promote peace in Somalia, as well as food security and agricultural development throughout the region. Droughts and hunger have occurred on a regular basis in this region. If we continue only responding to emergencies, bringing in food relief, we'll be in the same situation in three, five or seven years from now", the Jesuit priest continued.

In the midst of this crisis, the JRS on Tuesday announced plans to step up ongoing work for Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya, and to set up new services in Dollo Ado, southeastern Ethiopia where 75,000 Somali refugees have arrived since January.

"I'm going to Dollo Ado next week to get a clearer picture of the situation on the ground and make sure we can plan responsibly and start working there as soon as possible", said Fr Pflueger.

"Efforts to build peace in Somalia have to be stepped up. In the interim, JRS is focusing on mid-term measures, such as specific services that cater for the psychological or educational needs of refugees who are unlikely to be able to return home in the near future", added Fr Pflueger.

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