- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WAJIR, KENYAThousands of families are walking for days in search of food in a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet. Hundreds already have died, and images of children with skinny, malnourished bodies are becoming commonplace in this corner of Africa.

Even Somalia’s top militant group is asking the aid agencies it once banned from its territories to return. Thirsty livestock are dying by the thousands, and food prices have risen beyond what many families can afford.

Hawo Ibrahim said she and her seven children trekked 15 days from a town in southern Somalia before reaching a refugee camp in northeast Kenya.

“We have seen misery and hunger on our way,” said Ms. Ibrahim, 32, who said her husband went mad after the family lost its livestock to drought. “The most painful thing was when you don’t get anything for your thirsty and hungry children.”

Aid agencies are appealing for tens of millions of dollars in emergency funding. Oxfam - which hopes to raise $80 million, its largest ever appeal for Africa - says 12 million people are affected by hunger.

At least 500 Somalis are known to have died from drought-related diseases, though Oxfam says the actual number is likely higher.

“Two successive poor rains, entrenched poverty and lack of investment in affected areas have pushed 12 million people into a fight for survival,” said Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s humanitarian director.

Somalis desperate for food are overrunning the world’s largest refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, which is seeing some 10,000 new arrivals each week, six times the average at this time last year.

Caught between violence and hunger, a United Nations official said Somali refugees are suffering “a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions.”

The epicenter of the drought lies on the three-way border shared by Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, a nomadic region where families heavily depend on the health of their livestock.

Uganda and Djibouti also have been hit. ActionAid says some areas in the Horn are experiencing their driest conditions in 60 years.

“We only ran away from hunger - nothing else,” said Halimo Farah, a mother of three who fled Somalia and is now in Dadaab. “We had farms and got no rains for six seasons.”

Food prices also have risen. The U.N. says in the last year the price of sorghum in Somalia’s Baidoa jumped 240 percent, while yellow maize rose 117 percent rise in Jiiga, Ethiopia. White maize jumped nearly 60 percent in the Kenyan town of Mandera.

The U.N.’s refugee agency says Dadaab’s three camps now host more than 382,000 people, while thousands more are waiting at reception centers outside the camp.

More than 135,000 people have fled Somalia this year - including 54,000 in June, three times as many as in May, said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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