Somalia on the brink of famine

United Nations secretary general António Guterres this week urged the international community to take action to avert famine in Somalia, where a biting drought has left three million people without food.

The Horn of Africa nation is facing its third famine in the 25 years that it has been embroiled in civil war and anarchy. A 2011 famine left 260 000 people dead.

“There is a chance to avoid the worst … but we need massive support from the international community to avoid a repetition of the tragic events of 2011,” Guterres said on Tuesday.

After a stop in Mogadishu, he visited a camp of displaced people in the central city of Baidoa, which has been hit hard by the drought.

“The major factor for coming here was the drought. There is a lack of water, a lack of food. Our livestock has died,” said mother-of-six Mainouna, who arrived at the camp last month. She brought only three of her children, the youngest of which is a year old, and left the others with her family in the southern region of Middle Juba.

Guterres said the world had a “moral obligation” to help people like Mainouna.

Earlier, he had met President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a popular leader whose recent election has sparked hope among Somalis of a more stable future for a country notorious for being the world’s foremost failed state.

“We have a drought which could result in a famine if we don’t receive any rain in the coming two months,” said the president, better known by his nickname Farmaajo.

Although Somalia is inching closer to stability, Farmaajo warned after his election that there would be no quick fixes for the country after decades of repeated cycles of drought and insecurity.

African Union troops forced the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group out of the capital in 2011 but the jihadists still control parts of the countryside and carry out attacks against government, military and civilian targets, seemingly at will, in Mogadishu and regional towns.

“It is the dramatic situation of countries like Somalia that has created terrorism,” said Guterres.

The nation, along with Yemen and Nigeria, is on the verge of famine, which has already been declared in South Sudan.

Conflict and severe drought are the common denominators that have led to an unprecedented number of famine alerts around the world.

The UN said last month that $4.4-billion in emergency funding is needed to address the crisis in the four African and Middle East countries, where more than 20-million people face starvation.

In South Sudan, 100 000 people are already suffering from a “man-made” famine because of three years of civil war.

An official declaration of famine is made when 20% of the population in the affected area has extremely limited access to food, acute malnutrition is higher than 30%, and more than two people out of every 10 000 are dying as a result every day.

In Somalia, the drought has led to a spread of acute watery diarrhoea, cholera and measles, and nearly 5.5-million people are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said at least 110 people had died in 48 hours from “droughts and acute watery diarrhoea” caused by lack of food, medicine and access to safe drinking water.

“The combination of conflict, drought, climate change, diseases and cholera is a nightmare,” Guterres told journalists during the flight to Mogadishu.

Several failed rainy seasons have also severely affected other east African nations, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, and much of Southern Africa.

East Africans are holding their breath just weeks before the main annual rains. If they fail to materialise, the situation will turn from crisis into catastrophe.

Guterres’s visit to Somalia is only the third by a UN secretary general since 1993, two years after then-president Siad Barre was overthrown, plunging the country into civil war.

Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, visited Somalia in 2011, just months after its last famine, which was Africa’s worst in 20 years. He returned in 2014. — AFP

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Cyril Belaud
Cyril Belaud is an AFP journalist covering East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

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