The Irish Times view on drought in Somalia: a forgotten famine

The worst drought in decades – after five consecutive poor rainy seasons – is crippling the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. “Abaar”, drought in Somali, has already wiped out some 13 million livestock and devastated farmlands and the livelihoods they sustained. It has left nearly half of Somalia’s population of 16 million hungry.

Last year, a UN-commissioned study found some 43,000 died of hunger in the country, half below the age of five, and researchers warn that in the first six months of this year between 18,000 and 34,000 people are likely to succumb. The World Meteorological Organisation is forecasting yet another failed March to May rainy season when, in normal times, 60 per cent of annual rain would be expected to fall.

Oxfam warns that one in every five people is unable to have sufficient water each day while the price of clean water has skyrocketed throughout the Horn of Africa, with some areas experiencing a 400 per cent increase since January 2021. Spiralling food, fuel and fertiliser price inflation has also been fed by the war in Ukraine and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scale and urgency of the crisis is being underestimated, locals and aid organisations believe, by the failure of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to declare a famine. While the threshold number of deaths of children required to declare a famine has been reached in parts of Somalia, other thresholds have not been met and data collection difficulties hamper the UN’s work.


Compounding its problems, the country faces deepening insecurity and political instability. The central government in Mogadishu, backed by local militias, the African Union and outside countries like the US, is engaged in a bloody war against the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab. Close to one million people are said to still be in places controlled by the group, with little or no access to aid. Only a fifth of the UN’s $7 billion appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia has been funded to date.

Its plea for cash should be heeded.