U.N. agencies are warning of famine in Somalia and a surge of child deaths across the Horn of Africa if their appeals for urgently needed funds to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of hungry, malnourished children remain unmet.
The Horn of Africa is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of failed rains — a climate event not seen in at least 40 years. If the drought persists, the World Food Program warns as many as 20 million people will be suffering from acute hunger by the end of the year.
UNICEF reports more than 1.7 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of the condition.
Rania Dagash-Kamara is UNICEF deputy regional director, eastern and southern Africa. Speaking from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, she says the risks are particularly high for children in Somalia who now are living on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“We have an estimated 386,000 children in Somalia who are in desperate need of treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. Now, if I compare this to 2011, which was a famine year, we are now exceeding the numbers we had then, which were 340,000 children that required treatment at that time,” she said.
More than a quarter-million people died in the Somali famine of 2011, half of them children under age five. Dagash-Kamara says children are dying from a combination of malnutrition and killer diseases, such as measles and cholera.
She says the drought has killed crops and livestock and dried up water sources.
Children are starving and do not have the defenses to fight off the deadly impact of malnutrition and disease.
She notes the lives of children in the Horn of Africa also are at increased risk because of the war in Ukraine.
“Somalia alone used to import 92% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but supply lines are now blocked. And the war is exacerbating spiraling global food and fuel prices, meaning that many in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia can no longer afford the basic food stuffs they need to survive,” she said.
At the same time, U.N. agencies are cash poor. They lack the money needed to run their life-saving humanitarian operations. UNICEF has received just a third of its $250 million appeal for the Horn of Africa. The World Food Program says it needs $274 million to scale up lifesaving food and nutrition for more than 4 million people in Somalia over the next six months.
The agencies are appealing for critical support from the G-7, which will meet in Germany later this month. They say the G-7 advanced countries have it within their power to stave off a catastrophe that need not and must not happen.