Somalia: Preventing the repeat of a hunger crisis

22 May 2014

Aid agencies warn that Somalia is at risk of sliding back into a severe food crisis in the coming months. Credit: WFP/Laila Ali
Aid agencies warn that Somalia is at risk of sliding back into a severe food crisis in the coming months.

Somalia is on the brink of a new food crisis, with aid agencies warning that action is needed now. A combination of delayed rains, rising food prices and persistent conflict means that the country’s current, fragile food-security situation is expected to deteriorate in the next two months.

Aid groups have requested urgent funding to prevent a repeat of Somalia’s 2011 crisis, during which famine was declared and 258,000 people lost their lives.

50,000 children severely malnourished

Humanitarian needs in Somalia are immense. The country is home to one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced people. More than 1 million displaced people live in appalling conditions and lack access to minimum basic social services, such as education, health, shelter and water.

Somalia also has one of the five highest child-malnutrition rates in the world. Fifty thousand children are estimated to be severely malnourished. And one in every 10 Somali children will die before their first birthday.

But the situation has been so bad for so long that the world has almost become immune to it, says Edem Wosornu, the acting Head of OCHA’s Somalia office.

“Levels which are considered alarming and unacceptable in other countries tend to be regarded as acceptable in Somalia,” said Ms. Wosornu. “Sadly, the world’s tolerance for suffering in Somalia is too high. Early warnings about the worsening hunger situation have already been given. Aid agencies are raising the alert now in the hopes of preventing a catastrophe in the coming months.”

Health-care services face closure

Despite these warnings, the 2014 aid appeal for Somalia seeking US$933 million is less than 20 per cent funded, leaving humanitarian organizations with a shortfall of over $750 million.

“Some NGOs and UN agencies have so few resources that essential life-saving projects are facing closure,” warned Philippe Lazzarini, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. “If funding is not received in a matter of weeks, primary health-care services for 3 million people, many of them women and children, may have to be shut down.”

“The parallels to the pre-famine period in 2010 are very worrying, when the combination of shrinking access, declining funds and a few failed rainy seasons led to a devastating crisis,” continued Lazzarini.

“Early warnings must trigger early action at a speed and a scale that saves lives. This requires both immediate access and urgent resources.”