New Tampa, Florida - Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, is leading a delegation of high-level American officials to the Horn of Africa this weekend. That's as the situation in Somalia grows more desperate by the day. The worst drought there in 60 years has destroyed crops and left 12 million people at risk of starving.
Professor David Himmelgreen has worked in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida for more than a decade. He's done extensive research in Africa dealing with food, nutrition, chronic disease, and security.
Professor Himmelgreen is watching, along with the world, the latest developments in Somalia.
The U.S. believes the drought and famine have killed more than 29,000 children under the age of five in the last 90 days. Himmelgreen says, "The emotional psychological toll of the death of a child is unmeasurable."
Out of a population of about 7.5 million, the United Nations says 3.2 million Somalis are in need of immediate lifesaving assistance.
Himmelgreen says, back in March, the U.S., scientists, and others knew the situation in Somalia was getting worse. He says, "They have these early warning famine systems in place. The U.S. government has one so there are a set of indicators that they look at and they can tell months in advance if there's an impending famine. But because of all the politics there was relative inaction."
Getting aid to the region isn't easy due to militants. This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the militant organization Al-Shabaab, which controls much of the southern section of Somalia, to offer Western aid workers access to famine victims.
When a United Nations food shipment arrived on Friday in Mogadishu, a gunfight broke out and seven people were killed. Himmelgreen says, "I think it will get better, but it won't be before a lot more children die or get very sick."
Meanwhile, refugees are pouring out of Somalia to get at refugee camps just over the border in Kenya. It's a dangerous trip because they face bandits and militiamen along the way.
At a refugee camp in Dadaab, there are already about 450,000 people packed into the camp, which was designed for only 90,000.
Below is a list of some of the aid organizations with relief operations in the Horn of Africa, along with links to their donation pages.
UNICEF is among the most active charitable organizations supporting children in Somalia. They say as many as 640,000 children are acutely malnourished in southern Somalia alone. Their programs support 16 stabilization centers, 201 outpatient therapeutic programs, and 325 supplementary feeding programs. To donate money to UNICEF, click here. To learn how you can donate your time, click here.
The U.N.'s World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger, and is funded entirely through donations. Their work in the Horn of Africa is extensive and crucial. To find out how to donate to the WFP, click here.
The United States Association for UNHCR (USA for UNHCR) supports the UN Refugee Agency's humanitarian work to protect and assist refugees around the world. Donations toward shelter, protection, and other life-saving essentials for refugees can be made by clicking here.
Save the Children is one of the world's leading independent nonprofit organizations. It has made an urgent call to donors to provide life-saving help to thousands of families in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. "Eighty percent of the refugees are children and the majority of the remainder are women," says Duncan Harvey, Save the Children's Deputy Country Director in Ethiopia. To find a list of the many ways to help Save the Children with their work in East Africa, click here.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. To support their work helping refugees in the famine, visit here.
Doctors without Borders, founded in 1971, provides independent, impartial medical assistance to those most in need in crisis zones throughout the world. They have been working actively with Somali refugees in northern Kenya since 2009. To find out about the many ways to support their medical mission, visit here.
CARE is a leading humanitarian organization that places special focus on working alongside poor women because, they say, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Their immediate efforts for Somalia refugees in Kenya include safe water, sanitation, and emergency aid to newly arrived refugees. Individuals, especially children, who are suffering from malnutrition and medical problems are referred to supplementary and therapeutic feeding programs and stabilization units. Families are provided with emergency rations while awaiting access to general food distributions. To donate to CARE's East Africa program, visit here.
Mercy Corps is a global aid agency that works for long periods of time in areas that have experienced some kind of shock. They currently work with Somali refugees in Kenya, and plan on expanding their mission to alleviate the famine into Somalia and Ethiopia. To find out how to donate, click here.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has operations in Kenya and parts of Somalia helping refugees. To donate to the Red Cross, visit here.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. They are currently undertaking famine relief operations in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. To donate to their effort, visit here.
American Jewish World Service is an international development organization that has a long-standing presence in East Africa and is working with humanitarian organizations already on the ground to provide critical aid to refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities, including food, water and sanitation, medical support and personal safety. To find out how to donate to AJWS' effort in the region, visit their homepage here.
Islamic Relief USA is a legally separate and independent member of a global family of collaborating relief organizations that was awarded its sixth consecutive four-star rating by Charity Navigator in 2009. They already had relief projects in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia prior to the current crisis. To find out about volunteering with or donating to Islamic Relief USA, visit here.