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Fears for Somalia grow as food crisis deepens

Some developing countries in Africa are seeing good food harvests. The government in Niger for example, reported last month that the country is on track to produce 1.5 million tonnes of cereal, a yield over 40 per cent higher than average in the last five years.

And 11 African countries look set to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger. But only 4 of those countries (Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland and Angola) lie in eastern and southern Africa, where high rates of hunger and malnutrition remain. Last month the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced they would be working together in southern and eastern Africa to reduce hunger levels and speed up progress towards the MDG. The two organizations aim to “target the most vulnerable children and their families – those in remote areas or from the poorest and marginalized communities”.

However, this essential work is already under threat in Somalia, where parts of the country face the worst drought in five years. Livestock has been dying off and prices for sorghum and maize have risen by up to 80 per cent. According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the number of people needing assistance has increased by 20 per cent over the last half year. Currently the FAO estimates around 2.4 million people - a third of Somalia’s population - require aid. And if the drought intensifies, this could rise to half the population. As well as supplying food, agencies are keen to support rural livelihoods, by helping pastoralists maintain boreholes for example and providing vaccinations for cattle.

But humanitarian agencies are facing huge difficulties in providing help to the people who need it. Al Shabaab Islamist rebels have refused to allow emergency food supplies to be distributed in the south and central areas of Somalia they control. In an interview with Reuters, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia explained that the rebels believe aid creates a “dependency” which is not good for the population. However, rates of acute malnutrition among children have now risen from 15 to 21 per cent over the last half year. The UN is therefore hoping the rebels will “be willing to talk about these issues” and allow distribution of food as a short-term solution.

Meanwhile an estimated 400,000 displaced people already live outside war-torn Mogadishu. And across the country as a whole, the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) believes there are 1.5 million displaced Somalis, many inaccessible to humanitarian workers. If the drought worsens and aid doesn’t reach these people, then the situation could become much more critical.

 By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children