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As rains fail again, Hunger Looms over Somalia

ADDIS ABABA – A historic fourth consecutive failed rainy season, skyrocketing prices and an underfunded humanitarian response have resulted in a 160% increase in people facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, starvation and disease in Somalia.

With no end in sight for the devastating drought affecting the country, the risk of famine looms larger than ever, say four United Nations agencies in a joint statement.

“An urgent increase in support from the international community is essential to avert famine,” they said.

At least 7.1 million Somalis or close to 50% of the population now face crisis-level food insecurity or worse through at least September 2022, shows a new report from the Famine Early Warning Network and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit of FAO.

Of the total food insecure people, 213,000 face catastrophic hunger and starvation, a drastic increase from the 81,000 forecast in April, says the report’s analysis based on a rapid assessment by multiple UN agencies.

‘Thousands at risk of famine”

More areas are at risk of famine, particularly in the south of the country in regions where insecurity and conflict makes humanitarian access more challenging.

These figures reflect a food security situation that is expected to deteriorate rapidly over the coming months, the joint statement.

“Somalia is in danger of entering an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season, meaning hundreds of thousands of people face the risk of famine,” said Adam Abdelmoula, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

“Famine cost the lives of 260,000 Somalis in 2010-2011.This cannot be allowed to happen again in 2022,” he said. “It is urgent that more is done to avert this risk and done now.”

Collectively, humanitarian agencies have reached 2.8 million people between January and April 2022 with lifesaving and livelihood assistance.

However, the agencies say the new assessment clearly indicates that the scale of assistance currently being delivered and funding from the international community is not yet sufficient to protect those most at risk.

Food prices affecting the most vulnerable

Somali families are increasingly unable to cope with soaring food prices as local food has become scarce due to consecutive seasons of poor or failed domestic production, livestock deaths, and imported food prices reaching record levels – in part because of supply chain impacts due to conflict in Ukraine.

In parts of the country, food prices have risen 140 to 160%, leaving poor families hungry and destitute.

“It’s a race against time to prevent famine and WFP is scaling up as much as possible, prioritizing our limited resources to save those most at risk,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP’s Country Director in Somalia.

“But as these new figures show, there is an urgent need for more resources to meet this escalating hunger crisis,” he added.

Around 3 million livestock have died due to the drought since mid-2021, and the decline in meat and milk production has also led to worsening malnutrition, particularly among young children in pastoral areas who are dependent on local supply.

As of May 2022, an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five years face acute malnutrition through the end of the year, including 386,400 who are likely to be severely malnourished.

This figure has increased by 55,000 compared to previous estimates.

The malnutrition crisis is likely to worsen as the nutrition situation deteriorates further in the affected areas, with children and vulnerable people the hardest hit.

“This is a child crisis. It’s not only about water or nutrition, but also about children losing education, falling vulnerable to child protection issues and having poor health; all impacting their future,” said Angela Kearney, UNICEF Somalia Representative.

UNICEF has supported the treatment of more than 114,000 children with severe acute malnutrition between January and April 2022.

“We are treating children but now we need further funding to prevent a famine and protect the future of every Somali child,” she said.

Funding falls far short

The grim food security situation is unfolding as humanitarian funding from the international community has so far fallen short of coming close to what actors need to avert a famine in the country.

The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is currently only 18% funded, according to the UN agencies.

“It’s a tragedy to see the level of distress that rural communities in particular are experiencing, and we are being limited in what we can do to prevent this extraordinary suffering,” said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO’s Representative in Somalia..

“We’re calling on the international community to act fast while we still have some hope of preventing collapse of livelihoods, further and potentially massive population displacement from rural areas to IDP camps and widespread famine in Somalia,” FAO’s representative said.

Featured Image Caption: Around 3 million livestock have died due to the drought since mid-2021 and the decline in meat and milk production has also led to worsening malnutrition, the UN agencies say, [Photo FAO]