Somalia On The Brink of Famine

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PHOTO: Kadija Mohamed cooks food for her children in a camp set up for internally displaced people in Dinsoor, January 5, 2012. Almost six months after famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the Horn of Africa country remains in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, with 4 million people in need of aid, according to U.N. Figures. Picture taken January 5, 2012. To match Feature DISASTERS-SOMALIA/ REUTERS/Feisal Omar (SOMALIA – Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY DISASTER)/File Photo

Somalia is in a woeful state. A drought, the worst in 40 years, and political instability have already pushed half of the population into varying degrees of food insecurity, meaning that they are, at best, able to get just enough to eat only by cutting back on other household essentials. The Integrated Food Security Classification (IPC), a UN affiliate that measures hunger, warned this month that if more aid was not delivered by April, 69% of the population would suffer from food insecurity.

The number of Somalis going hungry has ballooned in recent years. The IPC reckons that 1% of the population is already suffering from famine, its most severe category of hunger (an official declaration of famine in Somalia would have to be agreed on by the UN and the country’s government). Some 5.6 million people, or 33% of the population, were classified by the IPC as living in a crisis level of hunger or worse between October and December. That is more than four times as many as in 2020.

The IPC’s projections for April to June 2023 are even more alarming: the number of people suffering from famine is expected to more than triple to 727,000. More than a third of those facing the most urgent level of food insecurity live in the Bay region in southern Somalia, which has been hit particularly hard by the drought (see map). Some 20% of people in the region are expected to be in famine by the summer. That means at least one household in five will be extremely short of food; 30% of children will suffer from acute malnutrition; and two out of every 10,000 people will die from hunger, or the effects of it, every day.

Somalia’s internal conflicts have made its plight worse. Al-Shabab, a terror group affiliated with al-Qaeda, makes it difficult for aid workers to reach rural communities. The UN estimates that more than 1.3m Somalis have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict. Prices of crops and animal feed have jumped, in part because of disruptions to global supply chains, forcing farmers to give up their livelihoods and move their families into squalid camps on the outskirts of Somalia’s big cities.

Many of these problems are not new. A civil war has been raging for decades. And the drought was preceded by many seasons of below-average rainfall. In Somalia’s most recent famine, which took hold in 2011, aid came too late. Half of the deaths had occurred by the time the un and the national government had agreed that the thresholds to declare a famine had been crossed. More than 250,000 people died, half of them children under five. In the hope that it can prevent a similar tragedy, the IPC in September warned of an impending famine. But warnings alone are little help. The un estimates that $2.3bn is needed to plug the gap in its humanitarian assistance in Somalia. So far, its member countries have provided just over half of the required funds.

The Economist

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