UK gives £25m aid to Somalia as 'perfect storm' could spark widespread famine

Foreign Office gives warning as aid organisations say financial assistance must be stepped up to avert starvation in East Africa

Precious water is drunk at a camp in Baidoa, Somalia. Insufficient rainfall is leading to severe drought across the Horn of Africa. AFP

The UK is providing a £25 million ($31.5m) aid package for Somalia to help it avoid widespread famine but aid organisations say the government should provide at least £900m to avert starvation across several African countries.

Britain's Foreign Office said a “perfect storm” of extreme weather, displacement and soaring commodity prices stemming from the war in Ukraine are creating a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa. Millions are at risk as the region faces its most severe drought since 1981.

After a meeting on Tuesday of governments and international donors in Geneva, the UK’s Minister for Africa Vicky Ford said the latest round of financial assistance “will mean life-saving food, water and healthcare support for more than a million people”.

“We should be in no doubt of what will happen if we fail to support the people of Somalia – 350,000 children will die and many more will have their lives ruined,” said Ms Ford.

The minister said the international community needed to “stand with the people of Somalia” after 250,000 people “needlessly” died from hunger in 2011, when “we said never again".

After three failed rainy seasons, approximately half the population require life-saving aid due to the brutal drought. Forecasts suggest a fourth failed rain season is likely. The UN estimates there are pockets of famine in the country already, with more than one million people on the edge of survival.

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The UK government committed an initial £14.5m of support for Somalia this year, bringing the total funding provided in 2022 to about £40m.

But the charity Oxfam has given a warning that the crisis requires a much larger global effort.

The international aid organisation says up to 28 million people across East Africa are facing severe hunger as rains are failing in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for the fourth consecutive season, while South Sudan is suffering a fifth year of severe flooding.

“We cannot wait until famine strikes, we must act now to save lives and prevent further suffering,” said Oxfam GB’s John Plastow, who recently visited drought-affected areas in Ethiopia and Kenya.

“The drought is already having a devastating impact. The most vulnerable people are dying. Livestock – a precious lifeline for so many – are being wiped out. Families are travelling huge distances in a desperate search for food and water. Women weak from hunger and malnutrition are miscarrying and newborn babies are dying. Many say it is the worst drought they have experienced in 40 years.”

Before the international donor’s meeting at the UN, Oxfam said only 3 per cent of the UN’s $6 billion appeal target for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan had been reached and that Kenya had secured only 17.5 per cent of its UN appeal to date.

UK aid to Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia has almost halved in the past year due to the cut in its international aid budget.

The Ukraine crisis has placed additional demand on dwindling aid funds while the wars; effect on global food and commodity prices looks set to exacerbate hunger in East Africa, with the region importing 90 per cent of its wheat.

UK Foreign Office data indicates that the price of rice in Somalia has risen by almost 15 per cent, oil by 40 per cent and wheat by 45 per cent since Russia's invasion.

In 2017, when 16 million people in the East Africa were facing severe hunger, the UK provided £861m as part of the global response, which helped avert widespread famine.

Oxfam said the UK over the past year has allocated £288m to the countries affected by the hunger crisis.

Drawing on the international community’s support of Ukraine, Oxfam said the UK’s promise of £400m in humanitarian and economic aid to the besieged eastern European country shows “that the world can act swiftly and generously” where there is “political will”.

“Help for one crisis should not come at the expense of lives elsewhere in the world. Five years ago, the UK helped avert widespread catastrophe in East Africa. It needs to do the same again now,” said Mr Plastow.

Updated: April 26, 2022, 5:59 PM
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