- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DOLO, Somalia (AP) — Lush patches of green dot this once-barren land, allowing goats and camels to graze. A nearby field is full of large, purple onions thanks to a U.N.-funded project.

Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from a disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people. But some Somalis — women, mostly — living in a stick-hut camp in this border town say they won’t return home because they’re afraid of hardline Islamist militants stalking those parts of the country, and of being unable to feed themselves.

The U.N. last week reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia from six to three and said the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000.

Since the July 20 famine declaration, the U.N. has received $800 million in aid. But the lives of 13 million people affected by East Africa’s worst drought in decades remain in doubt. Officials say aid deliveries must continue or recovering regions will plunge back into famine.

“We are just at the beginning of a phase of a potential recovery if everything goes well,” said Luca Alinovi, the head of the Somalia office of the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization.

He said it will likely be a year before anyone is sure the danger has passed.

Drought wiped out much of Somalia’s crops. Then herds of camels and goats perished, or were forced out of low-rain regions. The arrival of seasonal rains has pumped new life into Dolo, a river town on the Ethiopian border that’s in an area that until last week was considered a famine zone.

Small herds of goats frolic near Dolo’s yellow flowering bushes. Camels outside town munch on green shrubs. Donkeys drink puddles of muddy water. From the air, a spotty green canopy can be seen in place of the forbidding brown landscape that existed in July.

A camp on the edge of town is home to 5,000 people, mostly women and children, who fled the famine in other parts of Somalia. Somalis have also crowded into famine refugee camps in other parts of the country, including the capital, and outside the country, in Kenya and Ethiopia.

A local U.N. worker, Abdi Nur, said many of the men at the Dolo camp have returned home to plant crops. But many of the women say they won’t join them.

“I don’t want to go back,” said Hafida Mamood, 62. “There’s no security and no animals. We don’t want to go anywhere. The food is here.”

Other women nodded in agreement and voiced the same conviction.

Challiss McDonough, a World Food Program spokeswoman, said the displaced Somalis “have to feel physically secure and have a livelihood that will allow them to make ends meet” in their home regions.

Doubt remains, and a recent push by Kenyan forces into Somalia has complicated matters.

Somalia’s famine has been made more severe by al-Shabab militants who control the country’s south have impeded the work of some aid agencies, such as WFP. U.N. officials say tens of thousands of people have died, though Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official for Somalia, said he does not believe there will ever be a precise toll.

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