UN: nearly 250,000 people face starvation in Somalia

Agencies say global rises in food prices and continuing drought have created a complex crisis

The graves of twin sisters who died of hunger at the Kaxareey camp for the internally displaced people in the Gedo region of Somalia, on May 24.  Reuters
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Nearly a quarter of a million people are facing starvation in Somalia as drought worsens and global food prices hover near record highs, United Nations agencies said in a joint statement.

The agencies said a fourth consecutive rainy season had failed in the Horn of Africa country and meteorologists were warning of another below-average rainy season later this year as the climate becomes more erratic.

At the same time, world food prices were close to record highs in March as the Russia-Ukraine war disrupts markets for staple grains and edible oils.

About 213,000 Somalis are at risk of starvation, a near three-fold increase from levels expected in April, according to the statement from the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the children's agency Unicef, and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Acute food insecurity

The UN agencies also said about 7.1 million Somalis, or nearly half the population, face acute levels of food insecurity, meaning they will be barely able to get the minimum calories they need and might have to sell assets to survive.

"The lives of the most vulnerable are already at risk from malnutrition and hunger, we cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act," said El Khidir Daloum, the WFP's country director in Somalia.

About three million livestock have died in Somalia due to drought since mid-2021, the agencies said.

The UN's 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 18 per cent funded to date, and Somalia is competing with other global emergency hotspots for funding as food insecurity spreads around the world, the agencies added.

In 2011, famine conditions killed an estimated quarter of a million people in Somalia.

The UN has already warned about multiple, looming food crises on the planet, driven by climate “shocks” like drought and worsened by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which have sent fuel and food prices soaring.

On Monday, the WFP and FAO issued a jointly authored report warning of multiple, severe threats to food security worldwide: drought, above-average rain and a risk of localised flooding in the Sahel, a vast swath of Africa stretching south of the Sahara Desert.

Globally, it also cited a more intense hurricane season in the Caribbean and below-average rainfall in Afghanistan. The Asian country is already suffering through multiple seasons of drought, violence and political upheaval, including after the return of Taliban rule last summer.

The report tagged six nations as “highest alert” hot spots facing catastrophic conditions: Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Among critical areas cited is East Africa, where the United Nations said an “unprecedented” drought is afflicting Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. South Sudan, meanwhile, faces a fourth straight year of large-scale flooding.

Last month, the WFP’s Yemen Representative, Richard Ragan, told The National the funding shortfall has left the UN with immense budgetary pressures that are hurting its efforts to help feed the Arab world’s poorest country.

The humanitarian shortfall, he said, was forcing the WFP to make hard decisions about how to distribute food aid fairly.

Updated: June 07, 2022, 4:34 PM