Somalia: Crisis demands the world’s continued attention

20 January, 2012
Mogadishu, Somalia: Parents wait with their malnourished children at Banadir Hospital. Four million people urgently need assistance in the country. Credit: AU-UN IST PHOTO/Stuart Price
Mogadishu, Somalia: Parents wait with their malnourished children at Banadir Hospital. Four million people urgently need assistance in the country. Credit: AU-UN IST PHOTO/Stuart Price

The UN today urged the world not to lose focus on its largest humanitarian crisis, as millions of people still struggle to survive drought and conflict in Somalia.

Four million Somalis still need assistance six months after famine was declared in parts of the country. More than 1.3 million people are displaced inside Somalia, and over 950,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti, which themselves face major food shortages.

Following the declaration of famine in July 2011, a massive aid operation achieved significant results. Within the first three months of famine, the number of people receiving food tripled to 2.6 million and almost half a million malnourished children received nutrition supplements.

In November, the number of areas affected by famine dropped from six to three — partly a reflection of the increase in assistance.

However, the situation remains extremely grave and is growing more difficult. A quarter of a million people in southern Somalia still live in famine areas, and protracted conflict has made it increasingly difficult to deliver aid to some areas. Currently, more than 1.7 million people are receiving food assistance and the number is expected to increase as more data becomes available.

“We were able to halt the downward spiral into starvation for 500,000 of the people who were most at risk last year,” said Mark Bowden, Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. “Despite significant progress, the crisis in Somalia remains the largest in the world and will continue up until September.”

This month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) temporarily suspended its work in southern Somalia, and Médecins Sans Frontières closed its medical centres in Mogadishu. ICRC has said it will only continue if security and access improve.

In November, Al Shabaab, an armed group, banned 16 aid organizations (10 NGOs and six UN agencies) working in areas under its control in south and central Somalia, threatening to undermine the fragile humanitarian progress made so far. And there are growing concerns over the impact of military offensives by neighbouring countries.

The UN and agencies recently asked for US$1.5 billion to provide food, water, shelter and medical care in 2012, as well as to fund projects to help Somalis rebuild their lives. Over $480 million will go towards agricultural and livelihood support projects, including rebuilding roads and canals, providing cash-for-work schemes, and distributing drought-resistant seeds and fertilizers to farmers.

“The appeal is a realistic assessment of the needs. We will continue to face challenges to access and to delivering humanitarian assistance, but it is critical that we maintain the momentum,” added Mr. Bowden.

While the impact of the ban on food distribution is still being assessed, aid organizations are looking into ways to fill the gaps.

“The progress could very easily slip backwards if high levels of assistance are not sustained,” warned Mr. Bowden. “The crisis in Somalia demands the international community’s continued attention and commitment.”

More>>  Press Release  -  2012 Consolidated Appeal for Somalia