The International Committee of the Red Cross is ramping up its humanitarian operations in Somalia to meet the critical needs of famine-stricken Somalis struggling to survive.
The ICRC says it is planning to assist an additional one million people in central and south Somalia who are suffering severe food shortages.
Food shortages worsening
The food emergency in Somalia has been going on for months. And, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, it is not getting better. Drought and famine, compounded by conflict have made people in Somalia particularly vulnerable to food shortages and ill health.
ICRC spokeswoman Nicole Engelbrecht tells VOA there is no hope for an improvement in the situation until the next harvest in December. And, this, she says is dependent upon having a good rainy season.
“But, even then, it is not going to make such a big difference because the next rainy season that is set to begin in October only accounts for 30 percent of the yearly food production, if it goes well. So, that is definitely not enough to meet the immense needs that still persist in Somalia,” said Englebrecht.
The ICRC will be largely stepping up it’s humanitarian operation in southern Somalia, which is under the control of the Islamist Al-Shabab militant group. The ICRC is one of only a few international aid agencies able to operate freely in this area. Engelbrecht explains this is because Al Shabab accepts the ICRC as a neutral agency.
In response to the worsening situation, the ICRC is planning to provide food to an additional one million people in central and south Somalia by the end of the year. The agency is particularly worried about the rising levels of malnutrition. In some areas, it notes more than 20 percent of children under five are suffering from severe and acute malnutrition.
To counter that, the ICRC is strengthening its support for therapeutic feeding centers run by the Somali Red Crescent. More than 10,000 severely malnourished children currently are being treated. Engelbrecht says all these children will be released and cured within two months.
She says the main thrust of ICRC activities right now is on providing food, water, health care and other emergency aid to keep people alive. But, she says all these measures are accompanied by projects that aim at helping people help themselves to become independent and self-sustainable.
“For example, we have distributed irrigation pumps to help increase food production for over 6,000 people in certain areas of southern and central Somalia. Other people participate in what we call cash-for-work projects…They are paid for rehabilitating irrigation channels along the river areas and that helps them water their fields for example, noted Engelbrecht. "This is much more sustainable and helps them survive in the long run.”
Engelbrecht says boosting the livelihoods of people in the worst-off communities will encourage them to remain home and not flee to neighboring countries in search of assistance.
She says projects run by the ICRC are no panacea. But, she notes it shows people who are in a desperate strait that something can be done, that there is at least a small light at the end of the tunnel.