About 2.2 million people in Somalia are faced with severe hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned, owing to a disastrous drought the country is currently grappling with.
The drought is largely due to the persistent lack of rainfall since last October that has left nearly 18 percent of the population in urgent need of food, almost half of which are internally displaced persons (IDPs). Moreover, the severe drought conditions are leading to further internal displacement with nearly 44,000 people estimated to have moved from rural areas into urban centres this year.
“A significant lack of rains in April and early May has rendered dry and barren up to 85 percent of the croplands in the country’s breadbaskets, and according to the latest projections, food grown during the “Gu” season is likely to be 50 percent below average,” Senior Economist at the FAO and lead of the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), Mario Zappacosta said. Although some rains are still expected this month, they will be insufficient and arrive too late for crop and pasture recovery before the onset of the dry season.
In the special alert issued on the Horn of Africa nation, the United Nations (UN) agency indicated that the number of hungry Somalis is expected to be even 40 percent higher than estimates made at the beginning of this year. More so, the deteriorating nutritional status is a major concern as the country experiences a rapid decline of its humanitarian situation.
According to the Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Somalia, Victor Moses, the humanitarian situation has “deteriorated at an alarming rate” as a result of the drought. Communities that are worst-affected by the widespread crop failure and decline in livestock productivity have been pushed into acute food insecurity.
Data obtained from the NRC indicate that the number of people in the acute food insecurity crisis phase or worse has spiked by ten percent to more than 1.7 million by April, which is more than double the 2016/17 drought period and is expected to reach 2.2 million by July. And children are among the worst-hit as hundreds and thousands are already suffering from malnutrition.
The role of climate change
Much of the public discussion around climate change has focused on the rate of global warming. However, the recent change in rainfall patterns resulting in both heavy rains and extreme droughts that have affected agriculture and hydropower generation in several African countries is one of the most critical factors determining the overall impact of climate change. In other words, climate change is not limited just to temperature but also includes how precipitation – both rain and snow – changes will also have an impact on the global population.
Some of the generally observable effects of climate change in Africa include flooding, drought, change in the distribution of rainfall, the drying-up of rivers, and the receding of bodies of water. On average, warming is expected to result in dry areas becoming drier and wet areas becoming wetter.
This is evident in the recent cyclone-triggered torrential rains that caused deadly flooding in the Southern hemisphere of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe which killed over a thousand people.
There is also the severe drought in Kenya, where at least 10 hunger-related deaths were reported in March and about one million living in desperate conditions as the ongoing drought continues to destroy the country’s food resources and economy.
The dry spell was triggered by a lack of rain for the last 14 months since the water tables in affected regions have gone down drastically. While the Kenyan government has said the situation is likely to get worse if climate change continues to delay the rainy season.
Drop in the water levels of Africa’s rivers also affect entire economies. For example, Zambia and Zimbabwe have had to cut power generation from their jointly operated Kariba dam due to rapidly declining water levels in the Lake Kariba.
Global food insecurity
The situation of severe starvation may be peculiar to Somalia, but it comes at a time when food insecurity remains a serious global challenge. An April report jointly presented by the European Union, the FAO and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) find that over 100 million people worldwide are still affected by acute hunger.
Specifically, around 113 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity in 2018 and nearly two-thirds of those are in just 8 countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In 17 countries, acute hunger either remained the same or increased.
More so, the FAO reported in 2017 that the prevalence of hunger was rising in Africa after many years of decline. And while there have been significant efforts by some countries to boost agricultural production through investment in productivity-enhancing technologies and a significant expansion in the use of natural resources for agricultural purposes, the current rate of progress will not be enough to eradicate hunger by 2030, the agency stated.
Tackling the drought in Somalia
A major factor that has contributed substantially to the deterioration of the food security situation in Somalia is a reduction of humanitarian assistance in the country since early 2019.
To prevent loss of lives, the FAO is scaling up its response to prevent the already alarming humanitarian situation from getting even worse while it urges donation of more funds to address a funding gap of about $115 million.
“To protect their remaining livestock, herders require vital support such as water and supplementary feed. Countrywide animal health campaigns must also be rolled out quickly – starting with emergency livestock treatments to keep animals alive, healthy and productive,” FAO said in its alert.
Meanwhile, the NRC disclosed that this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia requires $1.08 billion but is currently funded to 19 percent so far, where some 4.6 million people are in need of aid, including an estimated 2.7 million children.
“Urgent funding is required now to allow aid agencies to immediately scale up the response and avoid a full-scale humanitarian disaster,” NRC’s Moses said.