Drought could plunge parts of Somalia into famine by year’s end, warns UN

Two parts of Somalia are likely to enter a state of famine later this year as the country battles relentless drought and outbreaks of conflict, the UN humanitarian chief has warned.

Martin Griffiths said the latest UN food insecurity analysis had found “concrete indications” that famine would occur in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts in south-central Somalia between October and December, unless relief efforts are dramatically stepped up.

“Famine is upon us and today we receive a final warning,” Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told a news conference in Mogadishu.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a global hunger tracking tool, these conditions are expected to last at least until next March.

An older white man in a suit speaks to a camera as Somalis stand in the background next to flimsy shelters
Martin Griffiths speaks to the press during a visit to a camp for displaced people in Baidoa. Photography: Ed Ram/Getty

Somalia has been pushed to the brink by the unprecedented failure of four consecutive rainy seasons, which has forced several hundred thousand people from their homes and put enormous pressure on a country already weakened by decades of conflict.

Griffiths compared the crisis to that of 2010-11, when famine claimed nearly 260,000 lives, half of them children. By the time levels of hunger and malnutrition were officially recognized as a famine, prompting an increase in aid, it is believed that more than 100,000 people had already died.

This time, Griffiths said, the trends underlying the crisis were worse than in 2010 – and the international community needed to heed the warnings. “Today we are at the last minute of the 11th hour to save lives. The clock is ticking and it will soon be sold out,” he said.

Donors needed to increase their funding, he said, and aid groups needed to know they had safe access to the areas most in need. There was still a chance to prevent starvation, he added, but the world had very little time.

The IPC assessment, released on Monday, said that so far neither Baidoa – where tens of thousands of internally displaced people are temporarily housed – nor Burhakaba districts meet the criteria for famine.

Arid countryside seen through an airplane window
Drought-affected areas of Somalia seen from an airplane. Photography: Ed Ram/Getty

But he predicted that with the likely worsening drought, unstable security situation and high food prices, these areas would likely cross that threshold at some point in the last three months of the year “in l ‘lack of significant humanitarian aid reaching the population’. most needy”.

The projection of the famine was described as signaling “a narrow window of opportunity to act to prevent what could otherwise become a full-fledged famine in the Bay area within months”.

Griffiths described Baidoa as the center of the crisis. And in Banaadir, near Mogadishu, medical teams were struggling to cope with the influx of emaciated children, he said.

“None of the children I saw at the stabilization center in Banadir hospital could smile. Very few could cry. And as we found out on leaving, we were lucky enough to hear a child cry, and we were told that when a child cries there is a chance of survival.

“Children who don’t cry are the ones we need to worry about,” he added. “And this child, crying anxiously in front of us – the mother smiled.”

Daud Jiran, national director of aid organization Mercy Corps, said: “We bury babies and watch with sorrow as mothers cry because they don’t know what to feed their children, who are now dying of hunger and thirst. , and the drought deprives families of crops and livestock, their only source of income.

“It is infuriating that we have once again come to the brink of starvation when we have the tools to fight hunger and prevent starvation,” he said.

Although commonly used to describe extreme hunger, the term starvation is only rarely used by IPC food security experts, who define it as extreme food deprivation where “starvation, death, misery and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition are or are likely to be evident.”

For a famine to be declared, an area will have at least 20% of households facing extreme lack of food and 30% of children suffering from acute malnutrition. Two people per 10,000 people will die every day “due to starvation or the interaction of malnutrition and disease”.

Drought could plunge parts of Somalia into famine by year’s end, warns UN

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