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UN Pushes to End Hunger Cycle in Horn of Africa

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Director General Jacques Diouf (R) speaks during an emergency meeting in Rome about the famine crisis in the Horn of Africa, August 18, 2011

A United Nations official says the world must help build "sustainable livelihoods" in the Horn of Africa to end cycles of hunger in the region.

Jacques Diouf, the head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said Thursday it is "unacceptable" that more than 12 million people in the region are at risk of starvation due to a severe drought.

Definition of Famine:

The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:

  • Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
  • More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
  • Severe lack of food access for large population

Current Famine:

  • Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 per cent in some areas. The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.

    The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.

  • Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:

  • Somalia 1991-1992
  • Ethiopia 1984-1985
  • Ethiopia 1974

Speaking at an FAO emergency meeting in Rome, Diouf said the global community has the money and expertise to help livestock farmers and crop producers defend against drought, but has failed to apply them.

The FAO called the meeting to discuss what it termed urgent and concrete measures to address the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Drought, famine and conflict have displaced hundreds of thousands of Somalis in recent weeks, with many of them fleeing to Kenya and Ethiopia.

On Wednesday, the Organization of the Islamic Conference pledged $350 million to help combat the crisis.

The U.N. humanitarian office, meanwhile, warned that crop production in southern Somalia will be "significantly below average."