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In Africa, a catastrophe

Batola Khalil Mohamed, 55, is carried in a wheelbarrow after a three-day journey from Somalia to a refugee complex.

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Batola Khalil Mohamed, 55, is carried in a wheelbarrow after a three-day journey from Somalia to a refugee complex.


Crops have shriveled, hundreds of cattle are dead and the World Food Program said Tuesday that 3.8 million Kenyans need emergency food aid because of a prolonged drought, which is even causing electrical blackouts in the capital because there's not enough water for hydroelectric plants.

With rivers shrinking to a trickle and mountaintop glaciers shrinking, authorities this month began rationing power in the capital, Nairobi, darkening homes and businesses at least three days a week.

The slums, where about half the capital's 4 million residents live, are being hit the worst. Taps have run dry and residents often wait for days for trucks to deliver expensive potable water. Business owners say they're losing money, harming Kenya's rebound from the violent aftermath of a 2007 presidential election that eviscerated the economy and killed more than 1,000 people.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga this month warned of a "catastrophe" if seasonal rains don't come in October and November, expressing fear that inter-clan violence could ensue.

In Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum, tailor Joseph Owino, 40, said he and his six children eat a meager breakfast of maize meal and black tea and skip lunch.

"We buy hoofs which have been thrown away and cook them with vegetables so that it has a meaty taste," he said.

In the parched countryside, it's even worse. In many places, the air stinks of rotting cattle carcasses.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, said she is worried about Kenya's future.

"We see carcasses of animals everywhere," said Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in conservation, women's rights and clean government. "You could easily see carcasses of people everywhere."


Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years, with more than half the population needing humanitarian aid amid an escalating crisis, the U.N. said Tuesday.

The agency's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit said Tuesday that 3.76 million people are getting humanitarian assistance and warned of further deterioration because of the country's ongoing insurgency.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on one another. The al-Shabab insurgent group, which has foreign fighters in its ranks, operates openly in the capital and seeks to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islam in Somalia. Many experts fear the country's lawlessness could provide a haven for al-Qaida, offering a place for terrorists to train and gather strength — like Afghanistan in the 1990s. The United States accuses al-Shabab of having ties to the terror network, which al-Shabab denies.

In Africa, a catastrophe 08/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 9:10pm]
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