Famine in East Africa

From the New York Times

For a generation, Somalia has been a byword for the suffering of a failed state. It has been without an effective central government since 1991, when the former government was toppled by clan militias that later turned on each other.

Since 2006, the country has faced an insurgency led by Al Shabab, one of Africa's most fearsome militant Islamist groups. Al Shabab controls much of southern Somalia and has claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda since 2007.

In the summer of 2011, the country was hard hit by a famine that extended across much of East Africa. By August, United Nations officials estimated that tens of thousands of Somalis had died, and that more than half a million children were on the brink of starvation.

The Shabab were blamed for much of the suffering, as it blocked many international relief groups from bringing food to famine victims. The Shabab, which had taken a beating in steady urban fighting against a better-armed, 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, abruptly pulled out of the bullet-ridden capital of Mogadishu, in August 2011, leaving the entire city in the hands of the government for the first time in years.

The situation had only worsened by mid-August, when the United Nations confirmed that a cholera epidemic was sweeping across the country. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis had fled into Kenya, Ethiopia and to camps in Mogadishu, where cholera and measles are preying upon a malnourished and immune-suppressed population.

At the same time, aid agencies acknowledged there may be yet another problem to reckon with: the wholesale theft of food aid. The United Nations World Food Program said they were investigating allegations that thousands of sacks of grain and other supplies intended for famine victims have been stolen by unscrupulous businessmen and then sold on the open market for a profit.