Published On: Tue, Jan 17th, 2017

UN warns millions of Somalis are at risk of famine

The UN has warned that millions of people in Somalia are at risk of famine after poor rains were forecast for the Horn of African nation that is struggling to recover from last year’s drought — the worst for three decades in some areas.

Diplomats said the situation was expected to deteriorate because donors were unlikely to contribute the $864m the UN appealed for on Tuesday to alleviate the crisis.

The lack of a fully functioning government in the country where al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group, has been waging an armed insurrection for years is further exacerbating the situation.

“The levels of human suffering in Somalia, triggered by protracted conflict, seasonal shocks and disease outbreaks are typically hard to bear, but the impact of this drought represents a threat of a different scale and magnitude,” said Peter de Clercq, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia. “We are faced with . . . a significant risk of further deterioration to famine.”

Mr de Clercq said 5m of the 12.3m population were in need of assistance and that many of the indicators that preceded a 2011 famine, in which 260,000 people died, had reappeared and were deteriorating faster than previously expected.

The UN said 2016 was the driest year in the Bari region, in north-east Somalia, since 1985, and in other areas it was the driest year this century.

As a consequence nomadic pastoralists have begun moving to Mogadishu, the capital, and other towns, Mr de Clercq said.

Seasonal rains are due from April to June.

Food prices are already starting to rise, following two seasons of below average production. In the last two months the price of red sorghum, a staple for many Somalis, has soared from 10 per cent below the five-year average to more than 50 per cent above it, according to UN data. Officials predict it will continue to rise.

The UN’s view was corroborated by the Famine Early Warning System Network, an agency set up by the US government in 1985, which on Monday also warned of looming famine in large swaths of Somalia.

Diplomats said that because of donor fatigue and the stuttering global economy, the UN would struggle to reach its appeal target.

“It’s a dream that they’ll get anywhere near that amount of money,” said a western diplomat working on Somalia.

Somalia has been ravaged by civil war or insurrection for more than 25 years. It is currently going through a much-delayed process to elect a new parliament and president.

An African Union force of about 20,000 soldiers from neighbouring countries are based in the country to help combat the threat of al-Shabaab.

Parts of neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya are also enduring severe drought but authorities in those countries have much better capacity to respond and so there is no risk of famine, the UN said.

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