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Aid Groups Warn of Somalia Food Crisis

  • Michael Onyiego

Internally displaced Somali children line up with containers in hand to receive food aid at a food distribution center, in Mogadishu, Somalia, March 15, 2011.

Internally displaced Somali children line up with containers in hand to receive food aid at a food distribution center, in Mogadishu, Somalia, March 15, 2011.

With seasonal rains failing across Somalia, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is urging immediate action to fight what they are calling one of the "worst droughts in recent memory."

Since March, farmers and pastoralist communities across east Africa have been waiting for the long rains which will sustain them until the end of the year. Throughout the region, drought conditions have developed, sparking fears of shortages and hardship.

The rains have finally arrived for much of East Africa, easing those fears. But for Somalia it may be too late. In the Horn of Africa, the drought was so intense that many in the country are now facing what experts call a "food crisis."

In response to the rising crisis, a coalition of 31 aid groups is urging immediate attention to avert suffering.

"East Africa has recurrent droughts often, this one has been called the worst in a couple of decades," said Geno Teofilo, a spokesperson for Oxfam Novib in Nairobi. "Although the rains have started there recently there is going to be a major food gap until the next harvest comes along. It has really gone beyond a drought, now it is a food crisis."

According to Teofilo, the situation has become so severe that even camels belonging to the pastoralist communities are beginning to die alongside thousands of livestock.

And the drought is only compounded by the ongoing instability in Somalia. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and allied militias are currently engaged in a campaign to wrest control of Southern Somalia from Islamic insurgent group al Shabab.

According to the coalition, at least 2.4 million Somalis, one third of the country, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit - Somalia estimates around 241,000 children to be acutely malnourished. Teofilo says it is not easy to assess the full extent of the situation.

"That is difficult to figure at this point since access to some of the worst-hit areas is difficult for relief agencies," added Teofilo. "What we do know is that this drought has caused a lot of displacement. More than 50,000 Somalis have been displaced in recent months. Some of them have been internally displaced within Somalia - going to Mogadishu in search of food. Others have fled across border to Ethiopia or Kenya."

The aid agencies are calling on international donors to provide both short and long-term assistance to address the current crisis and invest in infrastructure to prevent future disasters.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.

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