As UN relief chief Martin Griffiths warned of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe on Monday, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it is delivering more food aid to Somalia than ever before.
WFP noted that, despite so far reaching an unprecedented 3.7 million people with relief and over 300,000 with nutrition support, famine is an imminent reality unless drastic action is immediately taken. This is more than double the number of people assisted by the agency in April, and WFP is aiming to reach 4.5 million in the coming months.
The last famine in Somalia, in 2011-12, killed over a quarter of a million people – and while the scale of humanitarian assistance is much larger now than it was then, the scale of need is also much greater; the country is in the grip of a devastating drought, and is predicted to suffer a fifth consecutive failed rainy season.
Somalia is also reeling from conflict and instability, which are worsening hunger, and restricting the supply of aid to those who need it. These conditions are expected to last through to at least March 2023.
Food prices in Somalia were already rising sharply due to drought-induced livestock deaths and poor harvests; they soared even higher following the crisis in Ukraine. In June, the average cost for a household to meet its basic food needs was at its highest in five years.
Famine is now projected in several districts of the Bay region of Somalia from October to December, unless resources can be secured to sustain and expand the scale-up of humanitarian assistance.
“I have been shocked to my core these past few days by the level of pain and suffering we see so many Somalis enduring,” Martin Griffiths said to journalists on Monday.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was speaking from the capital, Mogadishu, after visiting some of the worst affected regions. “Famine is at the door,” he said, “and today we are receiving a final warning.”
Mr. Griffiths described Baidoa as the “epicentre of the humanitarian crisis”, where children are so malnourished that they can barely speak, and said that in Banadir, not far from Mogadishu, medical teams are struggling to keep up with the rush of emaciated children who seek treatment.
“None of the children that I saw at the stabilization centre in Banadir hospital could smile” recalled Mr. Griffiths. “Very few could cry. And as we discovered when we left, we had the good fortune to hear a child cry, and we were told that when a child cries, there is a chance of survival. Children who don’t cry are the ones we need to worry about.”
The UN relief chief warned that one and a half million children across Somalia risk acute malnutrition by October. He called for humanitarian organizations to be given immediate and safe access to all people in need, and for more funding to tackle the crisis.