“It is terrible to see how unfair the world is. There are three-year-olds here who weigh less than a newborn baby. Many of the children I’ve met will probably not survive. I am a father myself, and this overwhelming tragedy has made an indelible impression on me,” said Mr Solheim.
The food crisis in Somalia and neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa continues to worsen. The UN reports that thousands of people are arriving at the refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya every day. In Somalia itself, many are also fleeing to the war-torn capital Mogadishu. There are now more than 12 million people who are directly affected by the drought and food crisis. They have no food.
“In Somalia alone, there are 640 000 acutely malnourished children. I don’t think any of us can really take in the scale of this disaster,” said Mr Solheim.
Norway is one of the countries that has provided most money in response to the food crisis. So far, Norway has given NOK 273 million (USD 47 million) in emergency relief to the areas affected by the drought. These funds have been channelled through the UN, the Red Cross and various Norwegian NGOs that work in the area.
“We are considering on an ongoing basis whether Norway should contribute more. But now other countries must also get more involved. I also urge the Norwegian people to support the major relief organisations, which are doing a fantastic job,” said Mr Solheim.
The main cause of the disaster is the protracted conflict in Somalia. The Government has little legitimacy, and most of the country is under the control of the Islamist insurgent group al Shebab. The war has made local communities very vulnerable, also to natural climatic variations.
“The challenges in Somalia are huge. In the long term, only a political solution can lift the country out of the difficulties it is in. But now the international community must provide help to address the acute humanitarian crisis,” urged Mr Solheim.
There are strong indications that there will be greater changes to the climate in the region. There have been longer and more frequent periods of drought in recent years. One rainy season failed altogether last year.
Photos from Mr Solheim’s visit (free of charge for editorial use) will be published on an ongoing basis on the Ministry’s Flickr account: www.flickr.com/utenriksdept