Echoes of 2011 Somali famine cause for concern, say aid groups

Prolonged conflict, drought and rising food prices are conspiring to put people in Somalia at risk of hunger, warn a coalition of aid groups. The nearly 20 groups issued a statement yesterday to rally support before things get worse and the issue potentially becomes a more serious problem, like the 2011 famine in Somalia.

“Though the number of afflicted has declined, Somali men, women and children still need more donor commitment to funding humanitarian assistance long term. Principles of International Humanitarian law need to be upheld by all parties to the conflict, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need to avert this imminent humanitarian crisis,” said Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, in the release.

An update from the Famine Early Warning System Network last week said that food prices are increasing in parts of southern Somalia due to trade disruptions caused by conflict in the region. Somalia has struggled with stability for more than two decades due to recurrent sectarian violence and a campaign carried out by the al-Qaeda affiliated militant Islamist group, Al Shabaab. Disruptions in food trade mean that there are places in Somalia where food supplies are increasingly becoming limited, thus leading to rising food prices. The price of red sorghum increased by 68% from March to June in Xudur. The price of other staple crops, such as maize, have increased over the same period of time.

The warning states that conflict-affected area are seeing increases more acutely than other parts of the country. This is further complicated by the 22,400 people who were fled their homes during May and June, due to fighting. Those displaced are not only away from home, but they have to pay more money to buy food than they did before. It adds up to a worrying food security situation for the region.

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OCHA

More than 200,000 children under the age of 5 years old are acutely malnourished, according to the UN. Roughly two out of every three of those children live in southern and central Somalia. There are another 100,000 children who are characterized to be malnourished. Making matters worse, the government of Somalia declared that six regions of the country were suffering from a drought. It is taking steps to address the problem by launching a $500,000 drought relief fund. Aid groups, for their part, are encouraging donors to meet the $933 million humanitarian request made at the start of the year, which is presently only 27% funded.

“Responding after a food crisis costs at least three times more than taking preventive action. If we continue to ignore the warning signs, this crisis will cost donors and governments significantly more than acting now,” said Enzo Vecchio, Oxfam Somalia Country Director, in the release.

The situation in some ways resembles that of 2011. Warnings were issued early in the year of drought and the potential for famine if actions were not undertaken. Despite knowing what was coming, the international community struggled to mount a significant response until a famine was declared in July 2011. By then it was too late for many of the 200,000 Somalis that died as a result.

The hope is that history will not repeat itself. The warning signs are present for a potential hunger crisis. A total of eight warnings have been issued about potential issues of food insecurity in Somalia since the start of the year. If it happens, a famine can be considered man-made. Conflict has worsened an already tenuous situation and while the international community is coming up short in its support for Somalia. The tenor of the aid groups is that of optimism in regards to the possibility to avert a disaster if action is taken immediately.

“In the coming months, for the first time since the 2011 famine, we will see the number of people in food security crisis and emergency go up again, warned, Philippe Lanzzarini, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia in early July. “We cannot let these food security warnings fall on deaf ears…Funding is urgently needed today so that aid agencies can provide food, livelihood resources, health assistance and nutritional support to people in the worst-affected areas.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.