African union peacekeepers soldier stand guard during a visit by Jerry Rowling, AU envoy to Somalia, to displaced peoples camps in southern Mogadishu, Somalia. (Photo: AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali soldiers beat back desperate families with gun butts Thursday as they fought for food supplies in front of a weeping diplomat, a day after the U.N. declared parts of the country were suffering from the worst famine in a generation.
Neighboring Kenya also expressed concern Thursday about security threats posed by the large number of hungry Somali refugees and suggested food should be dropped by plane inside Somalia.
Tens of thousands of hungry Somalis have flooded refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia in search of help.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said his government is concerned about the security threat posed by those refugees, and he urged aid groups to set up feeding camps in areas of Somalia not controlled by the militant group al-Shabab.
"It is possible to set up food camps there and tents so that they can live there," Odinga said. "Once (refugees) come to Kenya they don't want to go back. They say it is better to die in Kenya than in Somalia."
The government spokesman said Kenya would like to see food aid dropped by planes into Somalia to slow the influx of refugees into Kenya.
In Mogadishu, the African Union envoy to Somalia, Jerry Rawlings, who wept as he told desperate Somalis seeking food that "I will knock on every door I can to help you." Soldiers beat back a rush of families during a handout of food aid.
Somalia's 20-year-old civil war is partly to blame for turning the drought in the Horn of Africa into a famine. Analysts warned that aid agencies could be airlifting emergency supplies to the failed state 20 years from now unless the U.N.-backed government improves.
"Corruption is a major part of the problem in Somalia," said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group. "This drought did not come out of nowhere, but the (Somali) government did not do anything to prepare for it. Instead they spent all their time fighting each other."
The U.N. has appealed for $300 million to over the next two months and aid agencies warn it will take at least $1 billion to provide emergency food, medicine and shelter for 11 million people in East Africa until the end of the year. Pictures of skeletal children and grief-stricken mothers stare out from Western newspapers in mute appeal.
The suffering is real. The U.N. believes tens of thousands have already died in the inaccessible interior, held by al-Qaida linked Islamist rebels who denied many aid agencies access for two years. The thorny scrub around the overflowing refugee camps in Kenya is littered with tiny corpses abandoned by mothers to weak to even dig their children a grave.
But Somalis will continue to suffer unless the international backers who support the Somali government also demand that it does a better job, said Abdirizak Jama, who headed the government's finance management unit until he fled the country after he wrote a report detailing tens of millions of dollars in missing donations from Arab nations.
"The Somalis are very grateful for what the international community is doing for them, but they need to be a bit more forceful in holding our politicians to account," Jama said.
Currently, the government only holds half of the capital with the help of 9,000 African Union peacekeepers. The salaries of 10,000 Somali soldiers are paid by the U.S. and Italy, and the police are paid by the European Union.
The E.U.'s humanitarian aid chief said Thursday that the famine offers a fresh chance to push for peace if local and international leaders step up.
"Perhaps we should see this crisis as an opportunity for more attention to be brought back to Somalia," Kristalina Georgieva told The Associated Press, noting that the worst drought in the region for 60 years had hit Somalia hardest because the government and infrastructure there are weakest.
"It might be that the incredible tragedy in Somalia ... is an opportunity for a renewed effort, and it has to be from the international community and the Somali people themselves and their leadership," she said.
Houreld reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press reporters Tom Odula in Nairobi and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.