Somalia famine 'over' but emergency remains, says U.N.
A 'massive scale-up in humanitarian assistance and an exceptional harvest' have helped puleld Somalia out of famine, but the country could easily relapse.
Fri, Feb 03 2012 at 5:11 AM
STILL AT RISK: Somali refugee Fatuma Abdille at the Dolo Ado transit center in Ethiopia. Despite famine conditions passing, a third of the population needs emergency aid. (Photo: William Davies/AFP)
NAIROBI — Famine conditions have ended in war-torn Somalia six months after they were declared, but the situation remains dire with a third of the population needing emergency aid, the U.N. said on Feb. 3.
"No more region in Somalia is under famine conditions," Jose Graziano da Silva, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told reporters. "However, the good news does not mean the crisis is over."
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have died during the famine, but mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, according to the U.N.
Three areas had been in famine: southern Somalia's Middle Shabelle, in Afgoye — the world's largest camp for displaced people — and inside camps in the anarchic capital Mogadishu.
However, those areas "have now improved to emergency level," the U.N. said, while warning that the situation remains critical.
"If we do not continue to support these people... these people will not survive and we will have famine back," the U.N. food agency chief said.
At least 2.34 million people or about a third of the country still need support across Somalia, while hunger will grow in the lean period before the next harvest in the conflict-ridden Horn of Africa nation.
"We have less than 100 days to avoid a new famine in the region," he added.
Famine was first declared in Somalia's Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in July, but later spread to other areas. Three areas improved to emergency levels last November.
"The combination of the massive scale-up in humanitarian assistance and an exceptional harvest have helped to improve the humanitarian situation," a U.N. statement read.
Somalia, ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and one of the regions that needs them most.
"The gains are fragile and will be reversed without continued support," said Mark Bowden, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
"There are 1.7 million people in southern Somalia still in crisis. Millions of people still need food, clean water, shelter and other assistance to survive and the situation is expected to deteriorate in May," Bowden added.
Much of southern Somalia is controlled by Al-Qaeda linked Shebab fighters, who have imposed draconian restrictions on aid agencies wanting to support those struggling in the war-wracked region.
The hardline Shebab are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies, with Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopia's army in the south and west, and the African Union troops in Mogadishu.
"The world shouldn't turn its back on Somalia, solely because statistics say there is no longer a famine," Senait Gebregzhiabher, the head of Oxfam in Somalia, said in a statement.
"We are seeing improvements in Somalia due to a good harvest and effective humanitarian aid, but the fear is that conflict threatens to jeopardize these gains."
Famine implies that at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the U.N. definition.
Somalia was the hardest hit by extreme drought last year that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.
"The situation in Somalia is still in the throes of its worst humanitarian crisis in decades," Gebregzhiabher added.
"We are seriously concerned that if people do not have the security to tend their crops and animals, or the freedom to access clean water and food in the markets, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate once again."
Copyright 2012 AFP Global Edition