Mogadishu, Somalia, 18 January 2023 — With the April-May rains in Somalia this year expected to be below normal for the sixth consecutive season, the number of households affected by the worst drought in the region in decades continues to grow every day. At least 8.3 million people in Somalia are on the brink of catastrophic famine as aid agencies fail to secure sufficient funding required to avert the crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working with local government and other aid agencies in supporting those affected by the food crisis. IRC has been able to raise $15 million but the growing needs outpace the resources we have.
The funding shortage comes at a time when another fifth consecutive failed rainy season has been experienced, putting more populations at risk of starvation.
Although humanitarian assistance has helped to delay an official famine declaration in Somalia, the International Rescue Committee warns the thresholds for famine are likely to be met in April-June 2023 as current funding levels are dropping. This will push communities already on the brink of famine over the top. IRC therefore calls upon donor countries to increase funds that will help provide treatment for children and women with severe malnutrition, enable access to clean drinking water, and vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases like measles, cholera and polio, as malnourished children are at increased risk of deadly disease.
In the past one year alone, at least 1.7 million people were displaced by drought and conflict in Somalia.
The displaced are faced with the double tragedy of extreme food insecurity and health crisis exacerbated by poor sanitation and water scarcity. The result at local IRC health clinics across the country has been both a rise in patients with diseases like measles and cholera, as well as children suffering from acute malnutrition.
Shashwat Saraf, IRC , Regional Emergency Director East Africa said,
“The current lack of an official famine declaration should not send the message that all is well in Somalia - we are already seeing people die every day from extreme hunger, malnutrition, and preventable diseases. Under these conditions, households will not recover from livestock losses and further reduction is expected, crop harvest will be limited and an increased disease outbreak is likely to occur. We urge international leaders and donors to learn from experiences of the 2011 famine where over 250,000 people died, half who died before the official famine was declared.”
The UN High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine (HLTF) should prioritise the six countries at highest risk, including Somalia. The task force's membership should be expanded to include international financial institutions, local and international NGOs and civil society groups, the states like Somalia which are affected by food insecurity, and leading donors like USAID and emerging donors. The HLTF should focus on unlocking the political will to respond to a famine risk, mobilising investments at scale to respond to early warning systems, and coordinating collective action across the international community. In addition to coordinating the global response, the HLTF should mobilise a donor pledging conference focused on the areas of highest need.
For future famines, the HLTF should prioritise prevention when it’s still possible to avert large scale loss of life, but for situations like Somalia when the window for prevention has closed, it is critical to rapidly scale up funding to humanitarian and civil society groups working directly with people in need in order to save lives. Funding for famine response will help groups like the IRC provide treatment for children and women with acute malnutrition, access to clean drinking water, and vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases like measles, cholera and polio, particularly for malnourished children who are at increased risk of deadly disease.
Since March 2022, IRC has scaled up its emergency response activities to 10 Districts in 4 States. The focus has been on priority 1 Districts (IPC-5) as classified by UNOCHA. The IRC primarily targets vulnerable individuals who have been impacted by the drought and conflict including women, children, elderly, persons with disabilities in IDP camps and host communities. The IRC has focused its support on the following sectors: health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), economic recovery and development (ERD), women’s protection and empowerment. As of December 2022, we have reached almost half a million drought affected people in Somalia.
East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programs globally, with operations in Somalia for over 40 years, Kenya for 30 years and Ethiopia for 20 years. Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.