The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, has commended international donors for their collective efforts in preventing famine in the Horn of Africa country but warned that the threat is not yet completely overcome.
Speaking at last week’s launch of a flagship food security and nutrition assessment in Somalia, Mr. de Clercq appealed to the international community to maintain the current efforts to avert a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.
“What we are looking at is still a very serious humanitarian situation in this country. Although we had a very good humanitarian response, we need to continue this response at a pace of about $100 million per month,” the Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia said. Noting that although it was “a lot of money,” Mr. de Clercq said donors need to contribute to avert the risk of famine in some isolated areas and also improve the health conditions of the population.
He said the response is urgent because Somalia continues to experience a significant outbreak of both Acute Watery Diarrhea and measles.
The newly launched report was produced by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and comes at a time when Somalia is undergoing an intense drought as a result of consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. It is also one of four countries the UN has said are facing the threat of famine this year. The others are Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria.
The FAO Representative in Somalia, Daniele Donati, also praised the donor community for their timely response to the drought ravaging the country.
“Thanks to FSNAU, life-saving assistance was provided in a timely manner and saved millions of lives with a combination of food assistance, cash-based interventions, livelihood support and a variety of other life-saving relief. And that’s how, collectively, we were able to avert famine in the first half of 2017”, Mr. Donati added.
The FAO Representative called for sustained humanitarian assistance in order to restore livelihoods and make lasting improvements to food security.
The FSNAU Chief Technical Advisor, Daniel Molla, echoed Mr. Donati’s sentiments, warning that the climate forecast showed that the country would continue to experience reduced rainfall this year.
“The Gu (April-June rainy season) crop harvest is estimated to be 37 percent lower than average and in the north-west where the conditions were worse, the Gu Karan (July-September rains) harvest is 87 percent lower than average”, Molla said, adding that the situation is likely to be exacerbated by the forthcoming Deyr (October to November rainy season) climate forecast which indicates average to below average condition, leaving pastoral households in difficulties.
The FSNAU assessment shows a decrease in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance from 6.7 million to 6.2 million. However, the harvest is lower due to poor rains, together with continued restrictions on access to food. As a result, food prices are expected to remain high through the initial months of 2018.
Somalia faced a debilitating drought in early 2017, leading to an appeal for international aid that raised $900 million earlier this year. At the time of the appeal 6.2 million Somalis were in need of food assistance, while 1.1 million had been displaced by the drought.
Published on UNSOM on September 5, 2017 (unsom.unmissions.org/somalia-still-under-threat-famine-warns-top-un-official).
By Jackson Diehl
The never-ending circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency has sucked attention from all kinds of issues that desperately need it, from health-care reform to the creeping expansion of U.S. engagement in Syria. Still, it’s shocking that so little heed is being paid to what the United Nations says is the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945: the danger that about 20 million people in four countries will suffer famine in the coming months, and that hundreds of thousands of children will starve to death.
Not heard of this? That’s the problem. According to U.N. and private relief officials, efforts to supply enough food to stem the simultaneous crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are falling tragically short so far, in part because of inadequate funding from governments and private donors. Of the $4.9 billion sought in February by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for immediate needs in those countries, just 39 percent had been donated as of last week.
That resource gap could be attributed to donor fatigue, or to the sheer size of the need. But, in part, it’s a simple lack of awareness. “We can’t seem to get anyone’s attention to what’s going on,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and chief executive of Save the Children.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says David Beasley, the former South Carolina governor who heads the U.N. World Food Program. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump . . . and here we are in crisis mode.”
The statistics that Miles and Beasley reel off certainly ought to command attention. For example: 1.4 million children are at risk of starvation in the four countries, of whom 600,000 “could die in the next three to four months,” according to Beasley. In Yemen, where hunger stalks 17 million people, only 3.3 million are being provided with full rations, compared with the 6.8 million the WFP wanted to feed this month. Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic has erupted, infecting more than 200,000 people so far. Miles says another child is infected every 35 seconds.
There’s been some progress: In the South Sudanese state of Unity, which surpassed the U.N. standard for a famine designation earlier this year, the alert was lifted last week following some large and timely food deliveries. In Somalia, too, relief operations have been more effective than during the last declared famine, in 2011. And yet the overall situation in both countries is still frightening. Fully 50 percent of South Sudan’s population, or 6 million people, are expected to be “severely food insecure” in the coming weeks, an increase of 500,000 over May.
In Somalia, the failure of spring rains may push the country into famine status by next month, Miles says. Yet the WFP says it might have to cut off 700,000 Somalis from aid in the next few weeks if more funding does not come through.
Notwithstanding the anti-foreign aid posture of the Trump administration, the United States is not the problem here. By early June Washington had pledged nearly $1.2 billion in relief to the four countries, including a supplement of $329 million announced on May 24. There’s more coming, thanks to a bipartisan coalition in Congress, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Lindsay O. Graham, that inserted $990 million for famine relief into this year’s budget.
Aid officials said getting the money from Washington is a slow process, thanks to the failure of the new administration to fill key posts at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And for the year beginning in October, Trump’s budget proposes a drastic cut of $1 billion in food aid. But Graham and other key legislators have already made clear that it won’t happen. “For all the chaos,” Beasley told me, “Democrats and Republicans still come together for hungry children.”
The WFP leader is more impatient with other nations — especially the Persian Gulf states that have done so much to create the crisis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which led the military intervention that has devastated an already poor country since 2015, is partially blockading the vital port of Hodeida, through which 70 percent of Yemen’s food is imported. So far this year the Saudis promised $227 million in famine relief to Yemen but delivered only about 30 percent of that. The United Arab Emirates isn’t even on OCHA’s list of donors. “The Saudis,” says Beasley, “ought to fund 100 percent of humanitarian needs in Yemen. No question.”
Famines used to attract broad interest in the West. Rock stars led relief campaigns, and television networks produced special documentaries. U.S. nongovernmental organizations are looking for ways to similarly galvanize the country this summer. Millions of lives may depend on whether they can find a way to command attention in the age of Trump.
Published on The Washington Post on June 25, 2017.