UN chief in Somalia on emergency visit to focus on famine

"People are dying. The world must act now to stop this," the UN chief tweeted on his arrival in this Horn of Africa nation.

By: AP | Mogadishu | Published:March 7, 2017 4:19 pm
FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 file photo, a malnourished child is weighed on a scales at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived for an emergency visit to Somalia on Tuesday to highlight the country’s famine crisis, meeting the country’s new president and saying the worsening hunger requires a massive response.

“People are dying. The world must act now to stop this,” the UN chief tweeted on his arrival in this Horn of Africa nation. “We need to make as much noise as possible,” Guterres said. “Conflict, drought, climate change, disease, cholera. The combination is a nightmare.”

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Somalia is part of a massive $4 billion aid appeal launched last month for four nations suffering from conflict and hunger. The others are Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine already has been declared.

Somalia over the weekend announced its first death toll since declaring a national disaster last week, saying 110 people had died in a 48-hour period in a single region. The United Nations estimates that 5 million people in Somalia need aid, amid warnings of a famine.

Welcoming the UN chief, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said: “My first priority is to address this drought crisis, and my main priority is to make an appeal to the international community to help us.”

Somalia is also one of the six Muslim-majority countries affected by the revised travel ban ordered by US President Donald Trump. Mohamed took Guterres’ visit as an opportunity to speak out against it.

“Definitely we will prefer to see that this travel ban should be lifted and, of course, we have to communicate with the US government because as everyone knows we have a large Somali community in the United States who I’m sure have contributed to the U.S. economy,” said Mohamed, in response to press questions. He himself has dual Somali-US citizenship.

Mohamed added: “We have to address the root cause, which is the security situation here and how to defeat (Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels) al-Shabab here.”

Guterres said he was pleased to meet Mohamed, who was elected and inaugurated last month. “I am bringing a message of solidarity to the president. A message of support,” Guterres said. “Let’s hope he can start an inclusive government.”

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien on Monday visited a camp of hundreds of Somalis who came to the capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid. Thousands of hungry people have trekked to the capital, overwhelming aid agencies.

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