U.N. sees warning signs of return to famine in Somalia

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 3 July 2014 09:46 GMT

Displaced Somali women leave with food rations from a distribution centre after moving to higher ground due to flooding in areas around Jowhar, a town north of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

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Senior U.N. officials say higher food prices, poor rains and lack of access echo 2011 famine

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hunger is set to worsen in Somalia due to rising food prices, patchy rains and a lack of access to people in need, undermining efforts to rebuild the conflict-scarred country, senior U.N. officials said late on Wednesday.

The last two rainy seasons, which people rely upon to grow food and provide for their cattle and goats, have been poor. Many Somalis are still reeling from famine in 2011, which killed 260,000 people and was caused by drought, conflict and a ban on food aid in territory held by the Islamist militant group, al Shabaab.

“All the signs we saw before 2011’s severe famine are here – reduced humanitarian access, insecurity, increasing food prices, delayed rains and rapidly worsening malnutrition among children,” said John Ging, operations director for the U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 

“It is vital that we act now to avert another disaster,” he said in a statement after visiting Somalia last week.

African Union and government forces mounted a new offensive earlier this year against al Shabaab, driving the militants out of several towns in the Horn of Africa country. But the group still controls swathes of countryside and has made it difficult for supplies to reach towns regained by AU-backed government troops. 

Some 857,000 people, most of them displaced, need urgent assistance before the harvest in August, the United Nations said. Its $933 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia in 2014 is only 25 percent funded.

“We have a small but critical window to do what’s needed to prevent a repeat of 2011,” Ted Chaiban, the U.N. children’s fund’s (Unicef) emergency director, added.

“Somalia is at a crossroads. Today, 50,000 children are severely malnourished, including many at risk of death within weeks if they do not get the treatment they need.”

Unicef said it will have to suspend essential health services for over three million people, more than 620,000 of them children, due to lack of funding. At the end of April, Unicef had received only eight percent of the funding required for 2014.

“Failure to act decisively to address humanitarian needs will not only lead to another humanitarian crisis but will also undermine the peace and state-building gains of the last two years, jeopardising this rare window for Somalia to graduate from failed state status,” Ging said.

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