Somalia on brink of new food crisis, agency warns

Fri, Jul 6, 2012, 01:00

INSUFFICIENT RAINFALL and continuing conflict are pushing hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia back into hunger, just six months after the UN declared an end to the famine there, a leading aid agency has warned.

Save the Children says the east African state is facing a fresh emergency that threatens to undo the success of last year’s unprecedented relief effort.

That crisis forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, devastating their livelihoods and leaving them vulnerable to future hunger shocks, according to the agency.

Now a combination of displacement, poor levels of rainfall and a predicted late harvest threatens to reverse Somalia’s fragile recovery from the disaster.

Early warning systems predict that poor rains will delay the harvest in south central Somalia, the epicentre of last year’s emergency. Hardest hit will be the 1.4 million Somalis already displaced by drought and conflict, who are relying on a good harvest to keep food prices low.

The charity is calling for urgent funding to provide ongoing emergency assistance and wants a fresh push from the international community to tackle the underlying causes of Somalia’s vulnerability to hunger disasters.

Last year east Africa suffered its worst drought in 60 years, causing thousands of deaths. Somalia was worst hit, with hundreds of thousands fleeing rural areas controlled by Islamic militants who have banned international aid agencies.

In Ireland, the crisis prompted a joint appeal by charities which raised more than €12 million for relief. A number of Irish agencies, including Concern, Trócaire, Oxfam and MSF, are working in the region.

Last February the UN said famine conditions had ended in Somalia six months after being first declared. It attributed the improvement to a good harvest and significant humanitarian assistance.

However, since then it says food security is deteriorating in many parts of the Horn of Africa, but particularly in Somalia, where the conflict is impeding access to those worst affected.

Rainfall between February and April was significantly delayed and was erratic in its onset.

“The incredible response to last year’s crisis saved thousands of lives. But that crisis has also left a huge amount of Somali families unable to cope with the effects of drought one year on.

“The underlying causes such as conflict, low rainfall and a lack of family income are still putting many Somali children at great risk,” said Sonia Zambakides, humanitarian director for Save the Children’s Somalia programme.

“Unless we tackle the long-term factors driving hunger in Somalia, we will see more deadly crises in the years to come. We need a step-change in approach towards Somalia: a shift away from simply responding to hunger emergencies towards a long-term commitment to tackle the issues that give rise to them.”