Waiting for a declaration of famine in Somalia is ‘too late’: Humanitarian sector


This week the 77e session of the United Nations General Assembly meets in New York, in the presence of the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong. This comes less than a fortnight after the UN announced that famine was imminent in Somalia.

The Australian Council for International Development, the apex body for Australian humanitarian agencies, is calling on the Australian government to dedicate $150 million to programs targeting hunger and starvation in the worst affected parts of the world, including the Horn of Australia. Africa, Syria and Yemen. and Afghanistan.

Discussions at the UN have already taken place on global food insecurity, forced displacement and how to support a response.

Even without an official declaration of famine in Somalia, hunger and starvation are already at shocking levels. An estimated 7.8 million people in Somalia face severe food shortages, with the lives of hundreds of thousands in immediate danger.

According to UNICEF, more than half a million Somali children under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished and at risk of starvation this year.

Three million head of cattle died and around one million people were forced from their homes in search of food. The current drought is longer and more severe than previous droughts.

ACFID calls on the Albanian government to recognize the magnitude of this crisis and to act now to try to avoid at least part of its impact.

“Somalia, along with other parts of the Horn of Africa, is grappling with famine and misery,” said ACFID CEO Marc Purcell.

“Australia’s action now will help stop the crisis from getting worse, rather than waiting for famine to be officially declared and more people dying,” Mr Purcell said.

Somalia is on the verge of suffering a fifth consecutive failed rainy season, which means that much-needed food stocks will not be able to be replenished.

The hunger crisis is worst in two areas of Bay region in the south-central part of the country, namely Baidoa and Burhakaba districts. The FAO says this will most likely continue until March 2023, unless humanitarian aid is not increased significantly and immediately.

The most vulnerable groups are pregnant and lactating women and children under five.

Between January and July, more than 730 children died in nutrition centers across the country, according to UNICEF.

This is the third severe drought in the Horn of Africa in the past 12 years. The 2010/11 drought caused famine. Australia’s rapid and timely humanitarian response delivered a rapid response totaling $112 million in 2010/11 that saved several hundred thousand lives.

“Australia should act as it did last time to avert famine. It is a proven fact that early humanitarian government action saves lives,” Mr Purcell said. “We know, thanks lessons learned from previous famines in the region, that when humanitarian aid is provided for preventive measures, it builds resilience.

What is starvation?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed the Integrated Classification of Food Security Phases (IPC) to track hunger. It is a standardized scale that categorizes the severity of acute food insecurity into five phases, ranging from “minimal” (phase 1) to “disaster” or “famine” (phase 5). Parts of Somalia are rated at 5. Also at IPC5 are parts of the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.

The IPC defines a famine as an extreme event where “starvation, death, misery and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition” are likely or present.

Famine is declared when an area has 20% or more households facing extreme lack of food, at least 30% of children suffering from acute malnutrition, and two people in 10,000 die every day from hunger or from conditions or diseases. related.

The United Nations calls for the declaration of a famine, in collaboration with the government of the country concerned.

Part of declaring a famine is to start the donor process – but the inherent flaw is that waiting for a crisis to reach official famine status means that too many lives have already been lost or disrupted.


The impending famine is the result of a confluence of factors, including multiple failed rainy seasons, conflicts including that in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The last time Somalia experienced an official famine was in 2011, when more than 250 million Somalis died of starvation or disease.

Somalia depends on Russia and Ukraine for more than 90% of its wheat supplies. Food prices are rising due to fuel shortages and costs, and even staples – like red sorghum – are soaring.

Another contributing factor is water scarcity. About 6.4 million Somalis do not have access to clean water sources, making them more vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

Over the past two years, Covid-19 has made its way through Somalia with the official death toll at 800 and confirmed cases at 15,300, but the real numbers are believed to be much higher. The pandemic has revealed the extreme poverty of the country’s health infrastructure.

Another contributing factor has been locust invasions in recent years which have threatened farmland and crops.

Presentation of Somalia

Somalia’s recent history is marked by armed conflict and political instability. It also has one of the highest external debts in the world. It lags on many development indicators, and infant mortality rates are the highest in the world. Its population is estimated at 12.5 million (although many nomads and refugees make it difficult to confirm this). More than 60 percent of the population is under 25 years old. There are over 1.1 million Somalis living outside the country in the region and over 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis. GDP per capita is US$800 and agriculture is the largest sector.

#HelpFightFamine Campaign

Fifty million people around the world face starvation due to conflict, climate change and Covid-19. Somalia will be the first place where famine will be officially declared, but it is not the only one.

A number of Australian international aid organizations have come together to form the #HelpFightFamine campaign, which is a coordinated initiative to push the Australian government to commit $150 million to famine relief in the October budget, and $200 million per year being invested in resilience and prevention. . fightfamine.com.au

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