Somalia at risk of famine, report says

Nairobi, Kenya –

Somalia is not yet in the grip of famine, but some parts of the country are at risk of famine in the coming months, according to a new food security report on the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades.

More than eight million people are severely food insecure as Somalia faces “unprecedented demand” after five consecutive failed rainy seasons and “exceptionally high” food prices, a report by the United Nations and other experts said Tuesday. Thousands of people have died.

The report warns that two parts of Somalia’s southwestern Gulf region, as well as the town of Baidoa and the capital Mogadishu, are expected to face famine between April and June next year. It said the “most likely scenario” was for more than 700,000 people in those areas to starve.

Several other regions in central and southern Somalia are also at greater risk of famine if a sixth consecutive rainy season fails early next year, the report said.

Earlier this year, food security experts warned that parts of Somalia would experience famine by the end of the year without increased international humanitarian aid. Humanitarian workers say the war in Ukraine has diverted funds from some major donors.

Famine refers to extreme lack of food and significant mortality from outright starvation or malnutrition coupled with diseases such as cholera. Officially declaring a famine means that more than one in five households are acutely food insecure, more than 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished, and more than two people in 10,000 die every day, according to data.

“They shouldn’t wait to declare a famine, we’ve been telling them that,” Alio Mohammad, Islamic Relief’s country director, said in an interview last week about the government and other donors. “It would be very depressing if the world just waited to declare a famine (to provide help).”

Neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya are also struggling with drought, but the new report offers a grim look at Somalia’s multiple crises. Insecurity created by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group has limited access for the hungry, and its fighters have destroyed water wells and food sources in retaliation for losses in the new government offensive.

At the same time, food and fuel prices in Somalia have soared, a global problem. Crops have been affected, making food more scarce in the coming months.

“Many families have lost or sold the last of their breeding animals,” the new report says. Millions of livestock have died in pastoralist countries, depriving families of traditional sources of wealth and health.

The National Director of Islamic Relief described the flow of desperate people arriving in Baidoa, some walking hundreds of kilometers (miles) to seek help, and dozens of families arriving every day. Last month, he met a heavily pregnant woman who walked barefoot with two of her seven children for a week. They did not eat during the journey, hoping to survive in the camp by begging before officially registering for assistance. That could take a week, Mohammad said.

“When they come, they just sleep on the ground with no shelter, no water, no food, no health,” he said.

Some Somali officials, including the president, have expressed hesitation about declaring the famine for fear it would jeopardize their efforts to show the country is emerging from a failed state past.

Whether there is an official famine or not, “there is clearly a need,” Kev Esteban Del Castillo, Somalia famine response manager for Catholic Relief Services, said in an interview last week. “Why can’t we do something?” He said the U.N. “really mobilized resources” when the famine was officially declared, and he believes some of the available funds will go to other global emergencies until then.

Del Castillo described a period of more funding for the crisis a few months ago, “but recently that has slowed down a lot,” even as more people across Somalia seek help.

“Some have given up hope, some are used to missing a rainy season or two during certain periods, but not this time,” he said. “They’ve never seen this.”

Asma Aweis Abdallah, a doctor in Baidoa with the Medecins Sans Frontieres aid group, said this month that more than 200,000 people have fled to the town this year. Malnutrition makes them more vulnerable to diseases such as cholera and measles, she said, of the 500 children admitted to MSF’s feeding program there each week.

Some children are just “skin on the bone,” she said. “As a Somali, this is the situation of the Somali community and it makes me very sad.”

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