Somalia’s catastrophic drought: More than 300,000 children at risk of dying
United Nations agencies are warning of famine in Somalia and a surge of child deaths across the Horn of Africa if their appeals for urgently needed funds to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of malnourished children remain unmet.
The country has endured four consecutive failed rainy seasons, plunging much of the country into severe drought, and prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.
The agencies also said some 7.1 million Somalis or nearly half the population face acute levels of food insecurity, meaning they will be barely able to get the minimum calories they need.
The Horn of Africa is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of failed rains, a climate event not seen in at least 40 years, according to experts. If the drought persists, the World Food Program warns as many as 20 million people will be suffering from acute hunger by the end of the year.
UNICEF reports more than 1.7 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia that are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of the condition.
Rania Dagash-Kamara, UNICEF deputy regional director for eastern and Southern Africa, said in a statement that the risks are particularly high for children in Somalia who now are living on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
Image: Gyan Shahane/Unsplash
“We have an estimated 386,000 children in Somalia who are in desperate need of treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. If I compare this to 2011, which was a famine year, we are now exceeding the numbers we had then, which were 340,000 children that required treatment at that time,” Dagash-Kamara said.
More than a quarter-million people died in the Somali famine of 2011, half of them children under the age of five. Dagash-Kamara says children are dying from a combination of malnutrition and killer diseases, such as measles and cholera.
“Somalia alone used to import 92% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but supply lines are now blocked. And the war is exacerbating spiralling global food and fuel prices, meaning that many in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia can no longer afford the basic foodstuff they need to survive,” she said.
“We must act immediately to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” said El-Khidir Daloum, the World Food Program’s country director in Somalia. “The lives of the most vulnerable are already at risk from malnutrition and hunger; we cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act. It’s a race against time to prevent famine.”
At particular risk of famine is southern Somalia, where the presence of fighters from al-Shabab, a Somalia-based Islamic armed group, makes humanitarian access a challenge.
The UN’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 18% funded to date, and Somalia is competing with other global emergency hot spots for funding as food insecurity spreads around the world, the agencies added.
One of the first acts of Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was to appoint a special drought envoy, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, who ran against him in last month’s presidential race. Warsame told The Guardian he expects a plan to be put in place soon to control the high food and fuel prices.
“We’re calling on the international community to act fast while we still have some hope of preventing widespread famine in Somalia,” the FAO’s representative in Somalia Etienne Peterschmitt said.
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The agencies are appealing for critical support from the G-7, which will meet in Germany later this month. They say the G-7 advanced countries have it within their power to stave off a catastrophe that need not and must not happen.
A report released by the World Health Organization in 2021 warned that climate change is the "single biggest health threat facing humanity." The report points out that climate change is already impacting the lives and health of millions of people in various ways, and that while no one is safe from these risks, people in low-income communities are most vulnerable.