THE man who heads one of the world's leading aid agencies says the current drought and famine devastating the east of Africa is 'by a long, long distance, the worst crisis I have seen'.
After 10 years at the head of Concern, you would think Tom Arnold would have seen it all by now but even he has been shocked by the staggering scale of the humanitarian disaster under way in southern Somalia and northern Kenya.
He is just back after spending a week in the ravaged region where he saw human misery, starvation and death on an unimaginable scale.
Mr Arnold sat down with the Drogheda Independent this week to talk about what he had seen and what his worldwide aid organisation is doing to address what is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis since the Ethiopian famine of the mid 80s.
The Concern chief executive said: 'It is a very serious situation. While we were there, the UN officially declared a famine in two regions of Somalia and said that if things didn't change then the rest of southern Somalia would be in famine conditions within one to two months.'
' What we saw in Doolow (Somalia) and more particularly in Mogadishu (Somali capital) was very high rates of malnutrition.
' There is a lot of children very badly nourished and so badly nourished that they were at risk of death. I'm talking about children that were maybe two years of age but weighed just five or six kilos.'
He described the scene in Mogadishu where more than 100,000 people have walked in search of food: ' The people in Mogadishu we saw, many of those had arrived in Mogadishu very recently or a couple of weeks previously having walked from their villages for as much as 200 or 300km. They left their villages when their livestock all died – it is a livestock economy.
' They were trying to get to where they hoped there would be food and they would not have had food or very little of it on the way so children were arriving in a very bad state of malnourishment and sadly, some of them had been left behind along the way.'
He said that in his 10 years at the helm of Concern he had seen nothing on this scale.
'By a long, long distance, it is the worst I have seen. I don't think I have seen anything comparable to this.'