UN declares famine in parts of Somalia: What it means


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The United Nations declared two regions of southern Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle, in a state of famine today, making it the most serious food insecurity situation in the world. Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, says that $300 million will be needed to address the famine and save lives in the next two months. The country has not seen famine in 19 years.

East Africa Food Crisis - Somaliland
A mother of five at the Ali Hussein camp in Somaliland. Photo courtesy of Alun McDonald/Oxfam


Aid agencies use a five-phase system called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) to determine the severity of a food crisis. These five regions of Somalia fall in the Phase 5 category, which means that means more than two people per 10,000 die each day, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 percent, all livestock is dead, and there is less than 2,100 kcal of food and 4 liters of water available per person per day.


The famine comes to Somalia after two consecutive poor rainy seasons, resulting in one of the driest years since 1950. According to the UN, the impacts of the drought have been exacerbated by high local cereal prices, excess livestock mortality, conflict and restricted humanitarian access in some areas.

Famines are deadly and dangerous. In Sudan and Ethiopia’s 1984 famine, more than 1 million people died, and much of the countries’ GDPs were being allocated to military spending just to quell insurgencies. Rich nations were slow to react to the humanitarian crisis, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. Other severe food crises have been declared in regions of Sudan, Somalia, North Korea and Ethiopia throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

With nearly 11 million people at risk of starvation in the current food crisis, many are worried that world leaders will make the same mistake again. While an official UN declaration of famine does not legally compel governments to treat famines differently than a less severe crisis, the IPC’s non-binding guidelines require that all basic needs — including water, shelter, sanitation and health — of a famine-stricken region must be provided.

The question now is how quickly world leaders will be able to assist the country in this moment of crisis. Humanitarian agencies have evolved and grown more sophisticated over the last 20 years, so hopefully, disaster response will be more efficient than the past. One thing is sure: foreign assistance is a necessary component. Please sign our petition and stay tuned to the ONE Blog for more analysis and commentary on this topic.


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