Famine could rip through Somalia as soon as April, UN warns

Somali children are seen within the Iftin Camp for the internally displaced people outside Baradere town, Gedo Region, Jubaland state, Somalia. (Reuters/File Photo)
Somali children are seen within the Iftin Camp for the internally displaced people outside Baradere town, Gedo Region, Jubaland state, Somalia. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 14 February 2023

Famine could rip through Somalia as soon as April, UN warns

Famine could rip through Somalia as soon as April, UN warns
  • Adam Abdelmoula, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the country, told Arab News the current drought is unprecedented in country’s history
  • The UN is seeking $2.6 billion in donations to fund aid for 8 million Somalis, amid calls for donors to “front-load their support”

NEW YORK CITY: The UN is seeking $2.6 billion to help 8 million people in Somalia as the country once again finds itself on the brink of widespread famine, as a result of overlapping crises including prolonged drought, conflict, insecurity, high food and water costs, and mass displacement.

Though the attention of the world has gradually returned to the country following similar dire warnings last year, this has not resulted in additional funding for the humanitarian response there.

Adam Abdelmoula, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, described the drought currently ravaging the African nation as “truly unprecedented” and said more than 700,000 people are expected to experience catastrophic hunger.

“The 2011 famine that killed 360,000 people was the result of three consecutive failed rainy seasons,” he told Arab News. “Now, we have already sailed past five failed rainy seasons — and that should tell you where are we at the moment.

“Don’t listen to those who tell you that this is the worst drought in 40 years; this is the worst drought in Somalia’s recorded history, period.”

After the famine in 2011, the international community said “never again,” Abdelmoula pointed out, adding: “If we truly want to honor that promise, there is no time to lose. Every delay in assistance is a matter of life or death for families in need.”

The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, unveiled last week by the UN, its humanitarian partners and the Somali government, includes the appeal for $2.6 billion in donations to help more than 8 million people in dire need of help and protection for their survival. That is almost half the population of the country, and women and children account for 80 percent of those in need.

Launching the appeal in the Somali capital Mogadishu, Abdelmoula said 3.8 million people in the country are internally displaced, one of the highest figures in the world. The majority were driven from their homes by conflict and climate shocks.

Such high levels of displacement, he said, exacerbate already limited access to basic services. An estimated 8 million people, for example, lack access to safe water supplies, sanitation and hygiene services at a time when disease outbreaks are on the rise compared with recent years.

Meanwhile, about 2 million Somali children under the age of five are likely to face acute malnutrition, including more than half a million likely to be severely acutely malnourished. Such high rates of acute malnutrition increase the risk of diseases and death from preventable causes such as cholera, measles and acute diarrhea. Less than a third of people in areas affected by drought have access to medical care.

More than 6 million people are likely to face high levels of acute food insecurity through March this year, said Abdelmoula, and the number is expected to increase to 8.3 million between April and June amid an anticipated reduction in funding for humanitarian assistance.

Although humanitarian aid contributions helped prevent the famine threshold from being surpassed last year, as had been projected, Abdelmoula pointed out that “the distinction between a declared famine and what millions of Somalis are already experiencing is truly meaningless.”

He added: “They are already going hungry. Children are starving. The underlying crisis has not improved and even more appalling outcomes are only temporarily averted.

“Famine is a strong possibility from April to June this year, and of course beyond, if humanitarian assistance is not sustained and if the April-to-June rains underperform as currently forecast.”

The 2022 humanitarian response plan for Somalia was only 67 percent funded, Abdelmoula said.

“And I hasten to say that 80 percent of that funding came from a single donor country, and that’s the United States,” he added. “And the US made it clear, again and again, that that was a one-off.”

The EU provided 10 percent of the funding, and the rest of the world contributed the remaining 10 percent.

“With higher and more severe needs in 2023, and the continuing risk of famine, we can and must do better,” Abdelmoula said.

Somalia is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and is ill-equipped to cope with the consecutive droughts that have depleted the country’s water supplies, resulting in crop failures as a result of which agricultural production has fallen to 70 percent below average.

The Somalis affected by these successive droughts are “the human face of the global climate emergency,” Adelmoula added.

Salah Jama, the deputy prime minister of the Federal Government of Somalia, said the country’s people “are paying the price for a climate emergency they did very little to create.”

Getting aid to those most in need remains a tremendous challenge. Some areas are hard to reach because of poor roads infrastructure. Others are under the control of Al-Shabab, an uncompromising, unpopular group with links to Al-Qaeda. Its deadly insurgency against the federal government has resulted in humanitarian aid convoys being attacked.

In a vicious cycle, the scarcity exacerbated by the activities of Al-Shabab means more desperate young Somalis are vulnerable to recruitment by the group.

“Unfortunately, we have very, very limited access to areas under Al-Shabaab control,” Abdelmoula told Arab News. “We try to use proxies at times — community leaders, some community-based (nongovernmental organizations) and so on — but that is very sporadic and very inconsistent.”

However, the Somali government recently regained control of some areas that had been under Al-Shabaab control and, Abdelmoula said: “We came close to getting a glimpse of what the situation looks like in areas that are still under Al-Shabab control, and compared to the communities that we have been dealing with, and the caseload of the humanitarian interventions, these people are in a much, much worse shape than those that were already identified to be at the brink of famine in the (southern) Bay region.”

It is estimated there are about 700,000 people living in areas that remain under Al-Shabaab control, according to the UN.

While humanitarian groups focus on life-saving activities to avert famine, UN officials also emphasize the need to invest in livelihoods, resilience, the development of infrastructure, climate adaptation efforts, and durable solutions for the internally displaced, to help break free from a cycle of chronically recurring humanitarian crises and perpetual dependency.

“I have consistently been saying that what we see in Somalia is equally a development crisis, (not only) a humanitarian crisis, and that there are no humanitarian solutions for this protracted crisis — there are only developmental interventions that can ween the country and its people from this endless dependency on humanitarian handouts,” Abdelmoula said.

“And while most of the donors agree, we still haven’t seen that level of development assistance that will enable the country to adapt with the accelerating and intensifying climate change, and to enable the communities to rely on themselves through income- and employment-generation interventions. I haven’t seen that happen yet.”

He called for the $2.6 billion in required humanitarian aid to be accompanied by financing for “resilience, development and climate adaptation.”

“Humanitarian organizations, local communities and government authorities have ramped up responses and reached 7.3 million people in 2022 but they need additional resources and unhindered access to people in need,” Abdelmoula added, as he urged donors to step up and “front-load their support.”