November 26, 2022

WHO ‘deeply concerned’ about projected famine in Somalia, Greater Horn of Africa, wants world to ‘scale-up’ humanitarian assistance ‘now’

Coronavirus Briefing, 4 February 2020 WHO Emergencies coronavirus Press Conference in the WHO Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC) room. Geneva, Switzerland, 6 February 2020. The conference was held by WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Andhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Executive Director, Health Emergencies Programme (HEO), Dr Michael Ryan and WHO Technical Lead on the COVID-19 Dr Maria Van Kerkhove. Title of officials and WHO staff reflects their respective positions at the time the photo was taken. Press Conference transcription: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/transcripts/trancription-who-audio-coronavirus-press-conference-06feb2020-final.pdf?sfvrsn=a6433f0b_2

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that it remains “deeply concerned about the situation in the Sahel and the Greater Horn of Africa, and particularly in Somalia.”

“Parts of Somalia are projected to fall into famine in the very near future unless there is an urgent scale-up in humanitarian assistance. Millions more people in other parts of the country are facing extreme hunger, and it is likely that many people have already starved to death,” the WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference from Geneva, Switzerland.

He noted that a rapid scale-up in humanitarian assistance since early this year has saved many lives.

“But the resources that WHO and our partners have to respond to the crisis are outstripped by the explosion in needs. Somalia and its neighbors in the Greater Horn of Africa – as well as the countries of the Sahel region – need the world’s help, and they need it now,” added Dr. Ghebereyesus.

The United States also said on Tuesday that it is ‘gravely concerned’ by a ‘dire projection’ of famine in Somalia between October and December and is calling on other donors to act.

“This week, the humanitarian community’s expert Famine Review Committee projected that parts of Somalia will likely experience famine between October and December without significant expansion of assistance. The United States is gravely concerned by this dire projection and the significant scale of need throughout the country and region,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

Sullivan said that the U.S. funding to address drought in Somalia is more than $706 million this fiscal year alone, representing more than half of all humanitarian funding for Somalia to date in 2022.

“Sadly, we have not yet seen additional donors step up with further significant contributions, and assistance has not met the rising levels of need. It is imperative that the international community acts immediately in order to save lives and prevent this projection from becoming reality,”he said.

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Sullivan added, “This likely famine is the result of a combination of factors. Climate change continues to wreak havoc on the region, including the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 70 years. The region has yet to recover from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of this, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine increased the cost of food, fertilizer, and fuel, further exacerbating humanitarian needs and making assistance more expensive, thus limiting its reach.  

“An official declaration of famine is relatively rare, and takes place when people experience critical acute malnutrition, starvation, and death. It can be prevented by timely assistance at scale. The United States has rapidly ramped up relief efforts to provide emergency assistance, including food to over 3.5 million people per month, vital malnutrition treatment, rapid response to disease outbreaks, provision of shelter and protection services, and ensuring communities have safe drinking water, sanitation, and improved hygiene.”

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the United States Agency for International Development called on the international community to act, asserting that “No one donor or government can solve this crisis alone, which is why we urgently call on all donors – both traditional and emerging donors – to step up now to help prevent mass starvation and deaths. Waiting for a famine is not an option.”

The agency wrote, “The IPC Famine Review Committee released their projection that, in the absence of an urgent increase in humanitarian assistance, famine is expected to occur in Buur Hakaba and Baidoa districts of southern Somalia this year between October and December. The United States is gravely concerned by this stark forecast and by the outsized scale of humanitarian need throughout the country, primarily as a result of a historically unprecedented drought marked by four back-to-back failed rainy seasons. More than 7 million people are facing grave hunger, and many of them are facing outright starvation – something I witnessed firsthand during my recent trip to Somalia.

“Somalia is a country in which many families have yet to fully recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last regional drought in 2017, or the last Famine in 2011, leaving many households with few resources to confront the effects of the current drought. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also significantly increased the cost of food, fertilizer, and fuel, exacerbating humanitarian needs across the region.

“This famine projection does not have to come to pass. When another drought devastated Somalia in 2017, rapid international action helped avert a famine. Today, a significant increase in humanitarian assistance can still help prevent mass starvation and deaths. But the window to prevent this famine projection from becoming a reality is closing quickly and the next several weeks are critical. The World Meteorological Organization recently reported new models that show with a high degree of confidence that we are entering the fifth consecutive failed rainy season. Continued drought combined with catastrophic hunger, disease, and staggering displacement could condemn people in Somalia who already find themselves in dire conditions to long-lasting human suffering and despair.

“The United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, representing over half of all humanitarian funding for Somalia in 2022. USAID has rapidly scaled up relief efforts to provide emergency assistance, including providing food assistance to at least 3.5 million people per month, vital malnutrition treatment, responding to disease outbreaks and other health needs, providing shelter and protection services, and providing communities with safe drinking water, sanitation, and improved hygiene. USAID funding for drought in Somalia has been more than $668 million this fiscal year alone, and we are prepared to do more in the coming weeks to save as many lives as possible.

“But we must all act now. No one donor or government can solve this crisis alone, which is why we urgently call on all donors – both traditional and emerging donors – to step up now to help prevent mass starvation and deaths. Waiting for a famine is not an option.

“USAID believes that donors can have the most immediate impact by surging support to humanitarian partners already on the ground in the region, facilitating a scale-up of assistance to those who need it the most. We urge other donors to prioritize life-saving interventions within the key sectors of the drought response, including food assistance, nutrition support, vital health care services, access to water and sanitation, emergency shelter, and protection assistance for vulnerable people.

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