Why Somalia Has Not Declared Famine Amid One Of Its Worst Cases Of Widespread Famine
Somalia is on the brink of its worst famine in half a century as drought intensifies and global food prices soar, leaving hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation.
The United Nations has warned that parts of the country will be hit by famine in the coming weeks, and it is projected to be worse than in 2011, when famine killed more than a quarter of a million people, about half of them children
More than $2.2 billion is needed to provide food, water, shelter, health and sanitation and other aid to drought-stricken communities, but Somalia has received only about half of that from foreign donors.
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“The international community must not wait for a famine declaration to act,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Natalia Kanem told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after visiting Somalia this month. “We have to go in with a life-saving response now.”
Aid workers said the threshold of famine had already been crossed in some areas, calling for an immediate official declaration to draw global attention to the disaster, mobilize much-needed foreign aid and save lives.
“We have been sounding the famine alarm for months, but aid has been slow. Now we are facing a catastrophic situation, people are dying,” said Adil Al-Mahi, head of the Oxfam charity in Somalia . “A hunger strike will certainly bring more support.”
But declaring hunger is a complex process that is heavily influenced by politics. Here are some facts:
What is a famine?
Famine is declared in an area where severe hunger is already widespread and when people have begun to starve because they do not have enough nutritious food.
According to the United Nations, the affected area must meet three conditions:
– At least 20% of the population faces an extreme food shortage
– At least 30% of children suffer from acute malnutrition
– At least two people out of every 10,000 inhabitants die every day from starvation or from a combination of severe hunger and disease.
Why is Somalia facing another famine?
Climate change is the main reason, aid workers say. Somalia – and parts of neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya – are facing their fifth consecutive failed rainy season.
This has pushed vulnerable populations, already affected by years of insurgency by Islamist insurgents al Shabaab and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to their limits.
Famine has worsened due to the rising cost of grain, fuel and fertilizer following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Somalia depends on Russia and Ukraine for 90% of its wheat, and prices for some commodities have risen as much as 160%.
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How is the drought affecting Somalis?
Some 6.7 million people, nearly half the country’s population, are facing severe hunger as a lack of rain for more than two years has decimated their crops and killed their livestock.
More than a million people have been torn from their homes and forced to walk for days in search of food, water and medical treatment.
Hundreds of malnourished and disease-stricken children have already died and more than 300,000 people are suffering from hunger.
If people are dying, why haven’t they declared famine?
The decision to declare a famine is usually made jointly by the government and the United Nations.
A famine declaration can be politically contentious, as governments can see it as a blight on their government and an opportunity for opponents to point to a failure of government and an inability to provide basic protection.
Aid workers in Somalia said part of the newly elected government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hesitated to declare a famine as it would damage public support and play into the hands of Al Shabaab insurgents.
The government also fears that a declaration of famine could deter investors and divert foreign aid meant for long-term development projects to hunger response.
In September, Mohamud admitted that the prospect of starvation in some parts of Somalia was serious.
“Declaring famine itself is a very difficult situation that not only affects the victims of famine, but stops development and changes perspectives,” Mohamud said at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a group think tank based in Washington.
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Will a declaration of hunger compel action?
No. The declaration of famine carries no binding obligations for the United Nations, the government or other UN member states, but serves to focus global attention on the situation and galvanize resources to provide emergency aid. When another drought paralyzed Somalia in 2017, quick action helped avert a famine.
What are the projections for Somalia for the coming months?
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the forecast is bleak, indicating that there will be little rainfall during the current rainy season and this is likely to extend into the next rainy season of march to may
“Regardless of the performance of next year’s rains, recovery from a drought of this magnitude will take years, with extremely high humanitarian needs that will persist and even increase into 2023,” FEWS NET said in a statement.
“Many people have completely lost their livelihoods and coping skills and are heavily dependent on assistance to meet basic needs,” he added.