2 million Somalis at risk of starvation, says UN official

Communities that were already vulnerable due to past droughts in Somalia are again facing severe hunger and water scarcity. (AP)
Updated 06 June 2019

2 million Somalis at risk of starvation, says UN official

  • $700 million needed to help the drought-stricken country to check food shortages

NEW YORK: A UN emergency relief coordinator has warned that more than 2 million men, women and children could die of starvation in Somalia by summer’s end if international aid is not sent quickly to the drought-stricken African country.

UN Undersecretary-General Mark Lowcock said about $700 million is needed after a rainless season that has killed both livestock and crops.

He said on Tuesday that the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $45 million to cover food shortages, water and daily necessities in Somalia as well as parts of Kenya and Ethiopia affected by droughts.

Of a Somali population of 15 million people, more than 3 million are struggling just to meet minimum food requirements, he said, and the shortages are about 40 percent worse now than this past winter.

“What was forecast to be an average rainy season in Somalia is now one of the driest on record in over 35 years,” he said. “Communities that were already vulnerable due to past droughts are again facing severe hunger and water scarcity and are at risk from deadly communicable diseases.”

The UN aid complements efforts by governments of the three countries to assist their people, especially those with disabilities or who are internally displaced.

Somalia’s humanitarian fund is currently depleted. If financial aid is delayed, the cost of saving lives on the margin of death is much higher, Lowcock said, adding that the option then is to turn to expensive, therapeutic feeding programs.

FASTFACT

More than 3 million are struggling just to meet minimum food requirements

“We could have a quick response now, which would be cheaper, reduce human suffering and more effective, or we can wait for a few months until we get all those horrible pictures on our TV screens and social media of starving kids,” Lowcock said.

Lowcock, who heads the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, said that in past decades droughts came about every half dozen years but recently they have hit every two or three years.

“There’s not really any question in my mind that these more frequent droughts are related to global warming and climate change,” the UN official said. “So the only middle- and longer-term response is to look at alternative livelihoods — a different way to make a living.”

The drought has also forced more than 49,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the year as they search for food, water, aid and work mostly in urban areas, according to UNHCR. 

People who are already displaced because of conflict and violence are also affected by the drought, at times disproportionally.

More than 7,000 people were displaced last month alone.

UNHCR has been working with partners and government agencies to assist those affected and displaced by the drought by providing emergency assistance in some of the most affected areas.


‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

Updated 39 min 42 sec ago

‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

  • The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor
  • Kenneth Roth: We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services

DAVOS: The “jury is still out” on whether the new government in Lebanon will be any different to the old one, the head of Human Rights Watch told Arab News on Friday.

Lebanon has been convulsed by demonstrations since October, when people took to the streets to protest against corruption, unemployment, a lack of basic services and economic problems. Political veteran Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister so that a new cabinet could be formed, but it took time to assemble a coalition.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor. He warned, however, that the early signs were not promising.

“We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services,” Roth told Arab News on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It’s not at all clear that the more technocratic government that has been put in place is going to be responsive to the needs of the people and able to deliver. The jury is still out on that. While the government has responded to the protesters’ demand on a political level by changing personnel, the security forces on the ground have often responded violently, and in repeated instances used excessive force rather than respect the rights of the protesters to petition their government to appeal for a government that is more respectful of their needs and accountable to their desires.”

According to Amnesty International, Lebanese security forces’ unlawful use of rubber bullets last weekend left at least 409 protesters injured, some seriously, in the most violent weekend since the protests began on Oct. 17.

“The protesters in Lebanon are upset by what they see as a dysfunctional and unaccountable government, I mean they are the most basic services that are not being provided,” Roth said, adding that the government was getting “increasingly intolerant.”

He also expressed concern about the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The rights’ group says there are around 1.5 million of them in the country and that 74 percent lack legal status. “Authorities heightened calls for the return of refugees in 2018 and municipalities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees,” the group said in a report.

“Syrian refugees obviously do impose a burden on Lebanon, but nonetheless there are legal obligations and the government really led by President (Michel) Aoun rather than former Prime Minister Hariri has been trying to make life more miserable for the refugees in the hope of forcing them back to Syria despite the fact that Syria remains completely unsafe,” Roth said.

Aoun and his son-in-law, former foreign minister Gebran Bassil, head the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which has the biggest parliamentary bloc. Aoun and Bassil have repeatedly claimed that Syria is now a safe and peaceful country and that the refugees should go back.

“It is not safe to force anybody back, the Lebanese government knows this in the sense that they are not putting guns to people’s heads and forcing them back, but they’re doing the metaphorical equivalent by making life so miserable that many refugees feel that despite the risks to their lives, they have to go back to Syria because there’s nothing for them in Lebanon,” Roth added.