Statement by Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Adam Abdelmoula on the drought at the Spokesperson’s Noon Briefing at UN Headquarters in New York
[As prepared for delivery]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
New York – I am speaking to you today because Somalia is on the brink of a devastating and widespread hunger and mass starvation that could claim hundreds of thousands of lives. Since the beginning of the year, the drought emergency in Somalia has worsened dramatically and today, we are looking at a looming disaster.
The situation is grim. Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, creating the worst drought in Somalia in at least four decades. At the same time, food prices have soared, and humanitarian assistance remains out of reach for millions of Somalis, as resources to meet their needs remain limited. In our analysis, the drought has so far affected seven million people, displacing over 805,000 from their homes.
Recently, some areas received moderate, scattered rains but these were not enough to alleviate the severe drought conditions. There is now a concrete risk that the next rainy season could also be below average, which would mark an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season.
Should these forecasts materialize, the situation will worsen further until mid-2023, at the earliest. Already, eight areas in Somalia are at increased risk of famine, particularly in the south of the country; in regions where insecurity and conflict make humanitarian access extremely challenging.
As we speak today, 7.1 million Somalis - close to 50 percent of the population - are facing crisis-level food insecurity or worse through at least September; of these 213,000 people will face catastrophic hunger and starvation, representing a 160 percent increase since April.
Women, children and the elderly have been particularly hard hit, constituting 82 per cent of all people displaced by drought since January. An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of 5 years face acute malnutrition, including 386,400 who are likely to be severely malnourished – an increase of 55,000 compared to previous estimates.
The malnutrition crisis is likely to worsen as the nutrition situation deteriorates further in the affected areas and access to people in need remains difficult for humanitarian agencies.
The drought has not spared livestock, a major source of livelihood for Somali families. Since mid-2021, around 3 million heads of livestock have died due to drought. And as expected, the decline in meat and milk production has aggravated the malnutrition situation, particularly among young children in pastoral areas.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Somalia is certainly heading toward a famine, if action is not taken now.
Somali families are increasingly unable to cope with the high food prices as local food has become scarce. Moreover, imported food prices have also reached record levels – in part because of supply chain impacts due to the crisis in Ukraine. In some parts of the country, food prices have risen by 140 to 160 percent, leaving poor families hungry and destitute.
At the same time, the drought has caused a health emergency, as disease outbreaks continue spiking. Since January, over 4,880 suspected cases of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera have been reported - half of these among children under the age of 2. At least 8,700 suspected measles cases (82 per cent children under age 5) have been also reported.
We know that severely malnourished children are nine times more likely to die of diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea/cholera and measles. The latest data shows that mortality rates are reaching high levels in some areas, especially in southern and central Somalia – and that indicates that loss of life is already occurring. We are hearing on the ground that people are losing loved ones, especially children and the elderly.
It is painful that the drought is devastating the lives and livelihoods of people whose coping capacities, livelihoods and assets were already eroded by decades of conflict and insecurity, rising food prices and shortages, climatic shocks, disease outbreaks, desert locust infestations and the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is why, as the humanitarians focus on saving lives and averting famine, the international community must also invest in sustainable livelihoods, resilience, infrastructure development, climate adaptation and durable solutions to ensure those affected by crises can survive in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not too late to avert the looming famine; lives and livelihoods can still be saved. But we need to act immediately.
Utilizing available resources, humanitarian agencies reached 2.8 million people between January and April 2022 with lifesaving and livelihood assistance through drought assistance and famine prevention programmes. I thank the donors and partners for their contributions so far.
The humanitarian community and national and local authorities have scaled up their activities, reorienting responses towards famine prevention and targeting the most vulnerable people in areas of highest need. These interventions by humanitarian partners have so far prevented the worst outcomes but cannot cope with the rising levels of needs. The available resources are woefully low. Our Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022 is just 18 per cent funded.
The reality is simply that the scale of assistance currently being delivered and funding from the international community is not sufficient to sustain those most at risk. Partners have shifted to famine prevention activities but are directing limited resources only to the people and areas where the needs are greatest, focusing on saving the lives most at risk.
Ladies and Gentlemen, join me in beating the drum so that the world can understand the gravity of the crisis in Somalia. I am calling on the international community to act fast while we still have some hope of preventing widespread famine and deaths. With additional resources, we can reach many more people. Without additional resources, more people will die.
We cannot wait for a formal declaration of famine to act at scale – by then, it will be too late. We have been there before; in 2011, severe drought resulted in a famine that killed a quarter of a million people, partly because we were slow to act. We must not allow that to happen again.
Today, hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, again. I particularly urge donors and partners to urgently frontload pledges and rapidly scale up assistance to the people of Somalia. We must act right now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.