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UN Warns of Famine Threat in Somalia

Women who fled drought queue to receive food distributed by local volunteers at a camp for displaced persons in the Daynile neighborhood on the outskirts of Mogadishu, in Somalia, May 18, 2019.

The U.N. humanitarian chief appealed Wednesday for urgently needed funding to prevent wide-scale hunger in the Horn of Africa after another failed rainy season.

Mark Lowcock said he would release $45 million from the U.N.’s emergency fund to help avert a humanitarian crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, but that about $700 million more is needed this year to prevent another famine like Somalia saw in 2011, when a quarter of a million people died.

Of the allocated funds, $30 million is for Somalia, $10 million for Ethiopia and $5 million is for Kenya.

“I’m particularly worried about Somalia, where by the end of the year, we think there could be 5.4 million people in dire straits, 2.2 million of whom could be in a really acute situation,” Lowcock told a small group of reporters. “I don’t think the world wants to tolerate another famine in Somalia.”

Severe droughts complicated by conflict caused famines in Somalia in 1992 and 2011, but the country was able to avoid another famine two years ago, after four consecutive failed rains pushed the country to the brink again.

“In 2017, we saw the problem coming, and there was a faster response. And that’s what we need to do again this year,” Lowcock said. “Let me be clear, if there is no response, there will be huge loss of life.”

He said there is plenty of evidence that shows how acting early to avert full-blown crises saves lives, reduces suffering and dramatically cuts response costs.

Lowcock noted that severe drought and other serious weather events, such as the cyclones that hit southern Africa in March and April, used to strike maybe once a decade. But now because of global warming, they are becoming more frequent.