UN declares famine in two southern regions of Somalia

July 20th, 2011 - 11:17 pm ICT by BNO News  

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia, namely due to the worst drought in decades.

With millions of people in desperate need of help, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden appealed for urgent resources to assist Somalis. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas,” said Bowden.

Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Currently, malnutrition rates in Somalia are the highest in the world, peaking up to 50 percent in certain areas of the country’s south, Bowden warned.

In the last few months, tens of thousands of Somalis have died as a result of causes related to malnutrition, the majority of them children. Famine was declared in the two regions of southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle in southern Somalia, where not only do malnutrition rates surpass the 30 percent marker, but deaths among children under the age of five exceed six per day in every 10,000 Somalis.

In the last few years, consecutive droughts have affected the country while the ongoing conflict has made it extremely difficult for agencies to operate and access communities in the south. Nearly half of the Somali population - 3.7 million people - are now estimated to be in crisis, with an estimated 2.8 million of them in the south.

“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” said Bowden. “We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need.”

While UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by the insurgent group Al-Shabaab, which requested international assistance in southern Somalia, the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry - especially children - and has contributed to the current crisis.

“Operations in Somalia are among the highest risk in the world, and WFP has lost 14 relief workers there since 2008,” said UN World Food Program, Josette Sheeran. “We will aggressively pursue efforts to mitigate against risk, through robust assessments and monitoring, but I am calling on all sides to stand together in recognizing the inevitable risks that will be present in southern Somalia.”

Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Jacques Diouf underlined the importance of scaling up aid efforts in investments into sustainable immediate and medium-term interventions that help farmers and their families protect their assets and continue to produce food.

UN agencies have asked for $1.6 billion to pay for essential programs in the Horn of Africa, but have only received half that amount. Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all facing a crisis that is being called the worst in 50 years, leaving an estimated 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations, the drought in the Eastern Horn of Africa is expected to continue until early 2012, and the number of people in acute livelihood crisis is expected to increase from 8.8 million in the coming months.

Although Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia saw the late arrival of the long pastoral rains (March-May), amounts received were low and insufficient to sustain human and livestock water consumption and regenerate pasture until the next rainy season (expected in October). River levels in Somalia are said to be at historic minimums, while water and cereal prices registered highest increases in 12 months.

Overall food security conditions across pastoral and marginal agricultural areas will continue to deteriorate in the coming 3 to 4 months, according to the UN, with expectation of late and below-average summer harvests, early depletion of pasture and water, and continued high prices of food, water and fuel.

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