International

Explained: Why Somalia Is Reluctant To Declare Famine Despite Widespread Hunger And Starvation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been described as a disaster for Somalia, which has suffered from a shortage of humanitarian aid as international donors focus on Europe. Somalia sourced at least 90 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine before the war and has been hit hard by scarcity and the sharp rise in food prices.

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Somalia suffers from famine.
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The United Nations (UN) has projected that parts of Somalia will be hit with famine in the coming weeks and it would be more severe than in 2011, when famine killed more than a quarter of a million people there, about half of them children. Hundreds and thousands of people have been reported to be dying of starvation.

In Somalia, “hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under five,” warned the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“Large-scale deaths from hunger” are increasingly likely in the east African nation, the UN agencies continued, noting that unless “adequate” help arrives, analysts expect that by December, “as many as four children or two adults per 10,000 people, will die every day”, according to the official website of the UN. 

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What is famine?

Famine is broadly understood as ‘an extreme crisis of access to adequate food, manifested in widespread malnutrition and loss of life due to starvation and infectious disease, reads the website of Oxfam. 

In technical terms, a famine is a situation where one in five households experience “an extreme lack of food and other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.” 

According to the UN, an area can be declared as suffering from famine if:

--- At least 30 per cent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition
--- At least 20% of the population is facing extreme food shortages
--- At least two people out of every 10,000 inhabitants are dying each day due to starvation, or a combination of severe hunger and illness

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What has caused a famine in Somalia?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been described as a disaster for Somalia, which has suffered from a shortage of humanitarian aid as international donors focus on Europe. Somalia sourced at least 90 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine before the war and has been hit hard by scarcity and the sharp rise in food prices.

Further, climate change has played a massive role in Somalia – and parts of neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya – are facing the fifth failed rainy season in a row.

This, combined with years of insurgency by Islamist insurgents al Shabaab and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Somalians to the brink. 

What is the situation like in Somalia?

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told reporters he was “shocked to my core these past few days” on a visit to Somalia in which he saw starving babies too weak to cry. More than 850,000 people are in the affected areas, with tens of thousands more arriving in the months to come, according to U.N. experts.

Hungry families in Somalia have been staggering for days or weeks through parched terrain in search of assistance. Many bury family members along the way. Even when they reach camps outside urban areas, they find little or no help.

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At one camp outside the capital, Mogadishu, Fadumo Abdi Aliyow showed The Associated Press the graves of her two small sons next to their makeshift home. Disease had overwhelmed their weakened bodies. One was 4. The other was eight months old.

“I wanted to die before them so they could bury me,” Aliyow said. Another resident of the camp of 1,800 families, Samey Adan Mohamed, said the last meal she and her eight children had was rice a day ago. Today they had only tea.

Camps like theirs are ringed by death, bringing aid workers to tears. “I couldn’t get out of my head the tiny mounds of ground marking children’s graves,” UNICEF’s deputy regional director Rania Dagash said last week. “I’m from this region and I’ve never seen it so bad.”

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A formal famine declaration might bring desperately needed funding. But “tragically, by the time a famine is declared, it’s already too late,” the U.N. World Food Program has said.

Why is the government not declaring famine?

The move to declare famine is politically contentious and the government fears that this might shed light on poor governance, questioning the government's failure to protect its people. 

Media reports have quoted Somalian authorities in admitting that a blanket famine declaration could “mislead responders and donors” as well as “chase away potential investors” in other areas of the country.

(with AP inputs)

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