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Somalia Reels From Worst Humanitarian Crisis in 18 Years

A new report says Somalia is now in its worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years. And it warns things could get even worse.

The UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia, part of the Food and Agriculture Organization, issued the report Tuesday. Cindy Holleman, chief technical advisor for the unit in Nairobi, says there are three main reasons driving Somalia's humanitarian crisis.

"One is that there's an ongoing drought in the country. Parts of the country are suffering five consecutive seasons of rain failure…. And about 1.4 million people are affected by the drought."

The drought has hit pastoralists very hard with the loss of large numbers of livestock.

The second factor is hyperinflation.

"Very, very high and rapid increases in food prices and non-food prices, which is beyond the reach of a lot of the poor in urban areas, as well as those populations that are dependent on market purchases," she says.

And of course conflict

"Right now it's one of the worst times in the last 18 years for civil insecurity," she says, withnearly one and a half million people displaced in Somalia since last year.

The conflict between Transitional Federal Government forces and Islamist militias has been escalating in the south-central region.

"About 75 percent of the…people in crisis right now are located in south-central (Somalia). Also, two-thirds of the children that are currently acutely malnourished are located in south-central," she says.

She adds, "This is the same areas where the conflict is most tense and there's not very good access for humanitarian workers. So one of the priorities has to be resolving the conflict and returning to peace and security."

A lot of hungry children

'We have done about 33 nutrition surveys in the last three months throughout the country. And we are noting that the nutrition levels have deteriorated. Currently…we seeing that one in five children are acutely malnourished and one in twenty are severely malnourished," she says.

Holleman says Somalia's acute and severe malnutrition rates are "the highest in the world" and continue to worsen.

Why so dry, so often?

"We have been looking at the cycles of drought in Somalia over the last 30 years. And there was a drought in this area 2003 / 2004, but it hadn't reached the level it is now. The last drought that they're comparing this to in its severity is 1974," she says.

Holleman says it's still not certain whether climate change is to blame.

"The main thing is we are issuing an early warning for an even further deterioration in the humanitarian situation depending on what happens in terms of the conflict," she says.

Somalia has been in nearly constant conflict since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.