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Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Somalia Famine

The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has been called the worst in the world; and a new assessment says the situation is getting worse at a faster pace than before.

The Food Security Analysis Unit of Somalia says multiple factors are contributing to the crisis. Cindy Holleman is the chief technical advisor for the project, which is run by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why things are going from bad to worse in Somalia.

“The situation is rapidly deteriorating. In the last three or for months, the number of people in need of assistance has increased from 1.8 million to over 2.6 million. This is about a 40 percent increase. So this is a very rapid increase in the problem,” she says.

Holleman outlines the main causes of the crisis. “There are three main factors that are driving it. One is the skyrocketing food prices within the country. The second is parts of the country are being affected by a drought, which is deepening because the rains have failed and haven’t appeared yet. And the third reason is civil insecurity, which is increasing,” she says.

Holleman says that a large part of the population is now classified as being in a “humanitarian emergency.” It means they’re in immediate need of assistance if lives are to be saved. Many others are classified as being in “livelihood crisis.” Holleman says while these people can meet their food needs, they are “stripping their assets and they are getting into a cycle that they could soon be in humanitarian emergency.”

The humanitarian crisis is evolving. “We do have a unique situation,” she says, “in that now we have parts of the urban population that are going into crisis. We have urban populations, mainly the poor, who can’t buy enough food now because of the skyrocketing food prices. So this is creating a new challenge for agencies working in the country. It’s a population that normally doesn’t receive this type of response,” she says.

Asked whether she sees the situation continuing to get worse, Holleman says, “All of us that work on Somalia right now are extremely worried. This is an unusual event. It’s the overlay of hyperinflation that’s affecting the urban poor, pushing them into crisis. There’s a drought going on in central Somalia, where livestock are dying. People cannot pay for water to keep their livestock alive and they’re struggling with high food prices. On top of that you have civil insecurity, which is deteriorating by the day both in South and central Somalia, perhaps to the worst situation in the last 15 years…. Yes, Somalia has always been one of the worst in the world, [with the] highest malnutrition rates, but what we’re observing right now is very worrying. And many people are saying we’re looking to a situation that could head toward the early 90’s in terms of the drought and famine.”

The Food Security Analysis Unit advises that “contingency planning and preparations for the worst case scenario will be crucial if response is to be timely and at appropriate level. How bad could it get? Holleman says, “The worst-case scenario is that we’re waiting for the rains. And the rains now are delayed and they’re very poor. In the next couple of weeks if we don’t receive rains we can say the Gu rains have failed in most of the country. This has a huge impact on the rural populations in crisis. On top of that we have very rapidly increasing food prices and that’s affecting the rural and the urban. So, we’re heading to a worst-case scenario, where you could have large percentage of the rural as well as the urban going into crisis. And the number that is projected right now was 3.5 million…. We haven’t seen these numbers for many years in terms of the needs. So to put plans in place now to plan for this worst case scenario is really critical. Otherwise if you don’t have food and other types of needs in response, like shelter and water, you could be seeing a famine.”