By John Ikani
The United Nations (UN) has warned that 200,000 people in Somalia could suffer starvation from severe famine owing to record-breaking drought.
A historic fourth consecutive failed rainy season, skyrocketing prices and an underfunded humanitarian response have resulted in a 160 percent increase in people facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, starvation and disease in Somalia.
With no end in sight for the devastating drought affecting the country, the risk of famine looms larger than ever, a new assessment by UN agencies showed.
While the drought is experienced throughout the Horn of Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia, the level of need in Somalia is so great – and so underfunded – that aid groups are dedicating what resources they have to averting a repeat of a 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people.
“We must act immediately to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” El-Khidir Daloum, the World Food Programme’s country director in Somalia, said in a statement.
“The lives of the most vulnerable are already at risk from malnutrition and hunger, and we cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act. It’s a race against time to prevent famine.”
The number of people facing “catastrophic hunger and starvation” had surged 160% since April, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Network.
More parts of Somalia were at risk of famine, particularly in the south where the presence of jihadists from the Al-Shabaab militant group makes humanitarian access a challenge.
Three million livestock had died because of drought since the middle of 2021, a terrible toll in a largely pastoral country where families rely on their herds for meat, milk and trade.
Food prices are also soaring, spurred by failed harvests locally and surging costs for imports caused in part by the war in Ukraine.
Less than 20% of the money needed to avoid a famine had been raised putting hundreds of thousands “at a very real risk of starvation and death”, said the FAO’s representative in Somalia, Etienne Peterschmitt.
“We’re calling on the international community to act fast while we still have some hope of preventing… widespread famine in Somalia,” he said.
East Africa endured a harrowing drought in 2017 but early humanitarian action averted a famine in Somalia.
In contrast, 260,000 people – half of them children under the age of six – died of hunger or hunger-related disorders when a famine struck the country in 2011.