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Why Somalia has not declared famine amid one of its worst cases of widespread hunger

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Somalia is on the brink of the worst famine in half a century as drought intensifies and global food prices soar, with hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starving to death.

The United Nations has warned that parts of the country will be hit by famine in the coming weeks – and projected to be worse than in 2011 when the famine killed more than 250,000 people there, about half of them. Children.

More than $2.2 billion is needed to provide food, water, shelter, health and sanitation and other assistance to drought-hit communities, but Somalia receives only about half of it from foreign donors.

Half a million children under 5 in Somalia are at risk of dying from famine

“The international community cannot wait for the famine declaration to come into force,” Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after visiting Somalia this month. “We need to get in there now with a life-saving response.”

Aid officials say some regions have already passed the famine threshold, calling for an immediate official declaration to draw global attention to the disaster, mobilize much-needed foreign aid and save lives. ing.

Adil Al Mahi, head of the Somali charity Oxfam, said: “We have been warning about famine for months, but aid has been delayed. Now we are in a devastating situation. We are facing it and people are dying.” “Declaring a famine would certainly bring more support.”

Declaring a famine, however, is a complex process heavily influenced by politics. Here are some facts:

A Somali child suffering from severe malnutrition at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Dagahei refugee camp, August 20, 2011.
(Lindsey Addario/Getty Images)

What is famine?

A famine was declared in areas where severe hunger was already prevalent, and people began to starve to death because there was not enough nutritious food.

According to the United Nations, affected areas must meet three conditions:

– At least 20% of the population faces extreme food insecurity

– At least 30% of children suffer from acute malnutrition

– At least 2 out of 10,000 inhabitants die every day from hunger or a combination of severe hunger and disease.

Why is Somalia facing famine again?

Climate change is the main reason, aid officials say. Somalia, and parts of neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, are facing five consecutive wet season failures.

This is driving vulnerable people into a corner, already hurt by years of riots by Islamic extremist al-Shabaab and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hunger is exacerbated by soaring prices for grain, fuel and fertilizer after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Somalia depends on Russia and Ukraine for her 90% of its wheat, and prices of some basic commodities have risen by up to 160%.

No quick solution to international food crisis sparked by Ukraine war, experts say

How is the drought affecting Somalia?

About 6.7 million people – almost half of the country’s population – face severe hunger.

More than one million people have been displaced from their homes, forcing them to travel for days in search of food, water and medical care.

Hundreds of malnourished and sick children have already died and more than 300,000 face hunger.

If people are dying, why isn’t famine declared?

The decision to declare a famine is usually made jointly by governments and the United Nations.

Famine declarations can be politically contentious. Because governments may see it as a doom of their own rules and an opportunity for opponents to point out their failures to govern and their inability to provide basic protections.

Aid activists in Somalia said some members of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s newly elected government are hesitant to declare a famine.

The government also fears that the famine declaration could deter investors and divert foreign aid intended for long-term development projects to address the famine.

In September Mohamud acknowledged the serious potential for famine in parts of Somalia.

“Declaring a famine in and of itself is a very difficult situation to halt development and shift perspectives rather than just affecting famine victims,” said Mohammed, a Washington-based think tank on Strategy. I spoke at an event at the Institute of International Affairs.


Does a famine declaration force action?

Declaring a famine does not impose a binding obligation on the United Nations, governments, or other United Nations member states, but it does draw world attention to the situation and can help activate resources to provide emergency assistance. When another drought devastated Somalia in 2017, swift action helped avert famine.

What are the predictions for Somalia in the coming months?

According to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), the forecast is bleak for the current rainy season, which is likely to continue into the next rainy season from March to May.

“Regardless of next year’s rainfall, recovery from a drought of this magnitude will take years. Humanitarian needs will remain very high and will rise even higher in 2023,” the FEWS NET statement said. I’m here.

“Many people have completely lost their livelihoods and coping skills and are heavily dependent on aid to meet their basic needs,” it added.

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