World must act to help famine-threatened Somalia 'before it is too late'

Call issued for humanitarian aid as country faces its worst drought in 40 years

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Urgent action is needed in Somalia with the threat of famine looming large amid the country's worst drought in 40 years, a World Food Programme official has said.

Nearly eight million people have been impacted — and more than a million of those displaced — during a crisis worsened by the effects of the war in Ukraine.

Ahead of World Food Day on Sunday, Mageed Yahia, WFP representative to the GCC region, said support from the internationally community was desperately needed.

“This drought is serious. Somalia is the hardest hit country in the Horn of Africa,” he said during a WFP event in Dubai.

“We have a good response so far from our partners, but we now need urgently to avert a famine.

“In the past, with the help of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, we averted a famine in Yemen in 2018. Today, we need to do the same thing before it’s too late.”

Mageed Yahia, World Food Programme representative to the GCC region.  Photo: The National

Famine is an extreme scarcity of food that leads to starvation or malnutrition, combined with diseases.

The region has experienced several climate-fuelled droughts over the years, but the situation is worse this time because of the effects from the war in Ukraine.

Somalia sourced at least 90 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine before the war.

And the country is also suffering from a shortage of humanitarian aid as international donors focus on Europe.

United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said last month that he was “shocked” to see the situation in Somalia.

“Ukraine has occupied the narrative,” he said.

Food insecurity due to conflicts and climate change

Mr Yahia said food insecurity in many different parts of the world was worsening due to conflicts and climate change.

He said that about 345 million people globally are suffering from hunger.

The world is also seeing a significant food price increase because of the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine together used to import more than a quarter of the world’s wheat supply, feeding billions of people.

“I wish we could really celebrate Food Day and a world that had enough and easy access to food, but, unfortunately, the situation has continued to deteriorate,” said Mr Yahia.

“Two main factors, of course, are driving the food insecurity around the world. One of them is complex armed conflicts, which continue to drive people out of their livelihood and their homes.

“Climate shock is becoming equally important factor in the food security sector… It’s driving millions of people out of their homes like we are seeing now in the Horn of Africa, the floods in Pakistan and the hurricanes in Latin and Central America and Cuba.”

These past few months, Pakistan experienced its worst floods in history from a catastrophic monsoon season.

More than 33 million people were affected and more than 1,500 killed across the country.

In Cuba, Florida and South Carolina, there were power outages and severe flooding caused by Hurricane Ian.

Mr Yahia said there is enough food in the world, but the problem was “lack of access”. He said there needs to be political will by leaders around the world to help the needy.

He said that the UAE continues to a play an important role in helping the WFP's initiatives in different countries.

“UAE is one of the largest donors of the programme for years now with contribution coming from the government and the Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiatives, which has helped us this year in six to eight countries in Africa and Asia,” he said.

“This year alone, we have received $60 million for our production in Ethiopia, and we are receiving now $40 million dollars from the Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiatives.”

UAE's food security drive

Essa Alhashmi, head at the UAE Food Security Office. Ryan Lim / The National

The UAE has sought to bolster its food and water security in recent years by prioritising local produce and embracing technology to address challenges posed by the country's dry climate.

Essa Alhashmi, head at the UAE Food Security Office, said the country is being pro-active over the key issue.

“We had several discussions with international stakeholders and had some bilateral treaties including the comprehensive economic agreement, for example with India,” he said.

“This enabled us to access some of those commodities that were difficult to either access or saw price hikes, such as wheat.”

He said that the UAE has also seen an impact from climate change, including in food production and sustaining natural resources like water.

“60 per cent of water consumed here in the UAE is driven by agriculture, yet the contribution of that to the food security and economical growth is very limited,” said Mr Alhashmi.

“So, the first thing we looked in the agenda for combating food insecurity is the fact that this food system needs to be modernised and it needs also to be sustainable.

“We are looking at aspects of enhancing as well as reducing water usage and where we can reuse the waste generated from the agriculture industry.”

He said the UAE has made many strides in increasing food security, with many bio farms that are set up across the country and significantly reducing its food waste.

He said the food waste figures used to be 137 kilograms per capita, which is now reduced to about 95 kgs per capita.

“I would say that Covid-19 played a significant role in that because people became more cautious, and we need to build on that,” said Mr Alhashmi.

Updated: October 16, 2022, 1:30 PM
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