Millions of people in Somalia are at risk of famine, with young children the most vulnerable to the worsening drought, UN agencies said, warning that the troubled nation is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Many parts of Somalia are being ravaged by an extreme months-long drought that has also taken hold in other countries in the region including Ethiopia and Kenya, destroying crops and livestock and driving huge numbers of people from their homes. “Somalia is facing famine conditions as a perfect storm of poor rain, skyrocketing food prices and huge funding shortfalls leaves almost 40 per cent of Somalis on the brink,” the World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), humanitarian agency OCHA and the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a joint statement.
“We are literally about to start taking food from the hungry to feed the starving,” WFP Somalia country director El-Khidir Daloum said in the statement, describing the nation as “on the cusp of a humanitarian catastrophe”.
The joint statement by the WFP, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the humanitarian agency OCHA and the United Nations Children’s Fund said “pockets of famine conditions” were likely in six areas of Somalia.
Six million Somalis or 40 per cent of the population are now facing extreme levels of food insecurity, according to a new report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, almost a two-fold increase since the beginning of the year, the agencies said.
About 1.4 million children face acute malnutrition through the end of the year, with around one quarter facing severe acute malnutrition, they said. Children under the age of five are the most vulnerable, with access to food and milk scarce because of rising commodity prices and livestock issues.
Must ‘act now’
Six areas have been identified as “at risk of famine, that are at risk of going down that route of 2011 if we don’t act now”, Lara Fossi, deputy country director for WFP Somalia, told a press conference in Geneva. She was referring to Somalia’s devastating 2011 famine, which saw 260,000 people — half of them children under the age of six — die of hunger or hunger-related disorders.
Fossi said there were “huge surges” of people moving across the country in search of humanitarian assistance.
The Norwegian Refugee Agency said 745,000 people had been forced from their homes because of the drought that followed three failed rainy seasons, citing figures from the UN refugee agency.
The UN statement said that together, humanitarian agencies had been able to reach almost two million people but warned of a “critical gap” in donor funding, with a 2022 plan seeking $1.5 billion reaching only 4.4 per cent of the target.
Etienne Peterschmitt, the FAO representative in Somalia, said attention had been diverted by the war in Ukraine that has also driven up prices of food and fuel.
The NRC noted that almost all of Somalia’s wheat comes from Ukraine or Russia, with prices already spiking for wheat, sugar and oil in parts of the country. Natural disasters — not conflict — have in recent years been the main drivers of displacement in Somalia, a war-torn nation that ranks among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change. The country is also in the grip of a political crisis over long-delayed elections and has been battling an insurgency by the Al-Shabaab Islamist extremist group for more than a decade.
In the 2011 famine, 260,000 people — half of them children under the age of six — died of hunger or hunger-related disorders.
Natural disasters — not conflict — have in recent years been the main drivers of displacement in Somalia, a war-torn nation that ranks among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change.
Hunger crisis going unnoticed
Moreover, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that a major hunger crisis in Africa is “going largely unnoticed” as the world focuses on Ukraine and other crises.
Some 346 million people — more than one in four people across Africa — are suffering from “alarming” hunger and that number will probably rise in the coming months, the ICRC said.
The crisis spans the continent from drought-ravaged Somalia and Ethiopia in the east to Mauritania and Burkina Faso in the west, it said. But, it warned, funding to assist millions going without meals is in short supply. “This is a disaster going largely unnoticed. Millions of families are going hungry and children are dying because of malnutrition,” ICRC head of global operations Dominik Stillhart told reporters in Nairobi. He said global attention on the “terrible” plight of civilians in Ukraine “should not prevent the world from looking at other crises.”
The conflict in Ukraine has also contributed to rising food and fuel costs and supply chain disruptions, amplifying the economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic, the ICRC added.
The ICRC has budgeted $1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) this year for its humanitarian response across Africa but faces a $800-million-euro shortfall. “We are scaling up our operations… to help as many people as we can, but the number of people going without food and water is staggering,” said Stillhart.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) warned last month that over 70 per cent of South Sudan’s population would face extreme hunger this year because of natural disasters and armed instability.
In Burkina Faso, the number of people displaced by hunger had more than doubled in the past year.
Stillhart also warned about the underlying impact on harvests from climate change.
“The current food security crisis is clearly the result of combined effects of conflict… but it is also the effect of repeated climate shocks,” he said.