Last month, the United Nations declared that the situation in southern Somalia (Bakool and Lower Shabelle) meets the organization’s definition of famine, whereby at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, more than 30 percent of people have acute malnutrition and two deaths per 10,000 people occur from starvation every day.According to Jim DeHarpporte, regional director for CRS West in San Diego, little emergency aid has been able to reach the people of southern Somalia due to a minimally-functioning government and the presence of armed tribal groups. Though CRS has no office in Somalia, it is providing vital support through local partners for food and emergency relief.“This is an extremely remote area which has experienced two years of drought,” said DeHarpporte. “The crisis has now reached the point of being noticed by the international community. In the last few weeks, more people are coming out of Somalia” looking for food, water and shelter.Experts estimate that at least 160,000 Somalis have fled their country to seek food and relief in Kenya and Ethiopia. CRS is the lead agency of the Joint Emergency Operations Program (JEOP) in Ethiopia, helping coordinate emergency food distributions by nine humanitarian organizations. At present, 400,000 people are receiving CRS food assistance through this program and relief agency workers plan to increase efforts to reach at least one million people in the coming weeks. A report last week issued by CRS said the agency will also respond to needs identified by the Government of Ethiopia (including an assessment that 159,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition) by providing water, sanitation and health support.In Kenya, CRS is aiding Somali refugees in the growing camp of Dadaab in eastern Kenya as well as in local Kenyan communities that are also suffering. It is estimated that as many as 1,300 refugees arrive at the Dadaab camp every day.Across the region, CRS is coordinating with the local Church, Caritas Internationalis, peer international agencies, the U.N., and the U.S. government. A CRS initiative begun eight years ago funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.N. Office for the Coordination of International Affairs and donations from concerned Catholics and people of goodwill has helped fight the effects of recurrent drought in Ethiopia.“There is a solution to this problem of recurrent drought that has left millions to face severe hunger,” said Bekele Abaire, CRS water and sanitation program manager. “We brought in rigs to drill [water] wells 1,000 feet into the earth. A recent visit to the field revealed that 95 percent of 28 wells we’ve constructed are still operational.”However, Abaire points out, “These sites were built to serve up to 5,000 people in any given community, but we’re finding that the need is so severe that up to 10,000 are now flocking to these water points.”Donations to CRS’ efforts toward alleviating the emergency caused by the East Africa drought may be made to Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090 (put East Africa Emergency Fund in the check’s memo portion). For more information, call 1-800-736-3467 or visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0805/crs/{/gallery}