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Somalia’s Famine-Affected Area Expands
September 7, 2011

These people have left their villages and gone to a camp in Mogadishu to find food. Security problems still hamper the delivery of supplies, according to the United Nations.

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer
September 6, 2011

Washington — Famine conditions are creeping across southern Somalia, reports an analysis group, with six regions of the country now affected and 750,000 people now facing “imminent starvation.”

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) issued its latest findings on the extent of the hardships in Eastern Africa September 5. FEWS NET is an analysis group that predicted the likelihood of famine more than a year ago, based on careful study of rainfall, growing conditions and crop yields. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), FEWS NET works with the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), a U.N.-backed entity, to monitor about 30 famine-prone nations and alert the international aid community to the possible development of humanitarian crisis situations.

The FEWS NET–FSNAU report adds the Bay region of southern Somalia to the list of regions previously declared at risk of famine, including districts of Lower and Middle Shabelle regions, the Afgoye corridor, and the internally displaced persons who have descended on Mogadishu in search of help because of insufficient supplies in their home villages.

The report finds that a total of 4 million people in Somalia are in crisis, with 750,000 “at risk of death in the coming four months in the absence of adequate response.” That estimate of the number of people in crisis has increased from 3.7 million in July. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and the report says that 3.3 million are in need of lifesaving assistance. It predicts that famine conditions will grip all areas of southern Somalia within the next few months.

While malnutrition and the potential for famine are most serious in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are also facing severe food shortages. More than 12 million people are estimated to be in need across the four nations.

The United States is the single largest donor nation providing assistance. The U.S. commitment for aid donations topped $600 million with a new contribution of $23 million announced by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah August 31. In large part, this assistance is passed on to U.N. and humanitarian organizations providing direct relief services. A USAID fact sheet says the latest assistance will “help treat severely malnourished children, improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and expand health surveillance and disease prevention efforts.” In addition, some of the funds flow directly to community members when they are hired to assist in aid efforts, thereby boosting cash flow in the communities.

The worst drought the region has experienced in about 20 years and subsequent crop failures have led to hardships that touch the lives of close to 12.5 million people in Eastern Africa. One chart in the FEWS NET–FSNAU September 5 report puts 2011 cereal harvests in the region at about 55,000 metric tons, compared to a 2010 harvest of about 325,000 tons.

Many people in this region are pastoralists, raising herds of animals — mostly goats, cattle and sheep — as a source of both income and nutrition. But dry conditions have laid brown much of the region, so these herders have traveled unusually long distances to find grazing for their animals in areas where the land supports a little more vegetation. But that has grouped too many animals on areas with limited pasture and water.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that herds will suffer a mortality rate as high as 60 percent in cattle, 40 percent in sheep and about 30 percent in goats, although no official calculation of losses has been conducted. Losses of such a magnitude would have “profound impact at the household and national economic levels,” according to a situation report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.