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Spectre of Somalia hunger catastrophe returns

07 May 2014, 17:27

Nairobi - War-torn Somalia risks sliding back into acute crisis less than three years since a devastating famine, aid agencies warned onWednesday, amid failing rains, escalating conflict and aid funding shortfalls.

Over 50 000 severely malnourished children are at "death's door", said the warning issued by a coalition of 22 international and Somali aid agencies, with almost three million people in crisis and over one million forced from their homes.

"These statistics would be arresting in almost any other situation in the world," Ed Pomfret from Oxfam told reporters, noting it was the second rainy season to have failed.

"The problem with Somalia is that it has been a crisis for over 20 years... people more or less roll their eyes and think: 'pirates, terrorists, hunger and death, what can I do about that?'" he added.

"If we don't act now, we risk the current crisis becoming a catastrophe."

Somalia was the hardest hit by extreme drought in 2011 that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa, with famine zones declared in large parts of the war-ravaged south.

Almost 260 000 people, half of them young children, died of hunger during the 2011-2012 famine, according to the United Nations, which admitted it had failed and should have done more to prevent the tragedy.

The United Nations has since said that warnings that began two years earlier had not triggered "sufficient early action."

 'Perfect storm' for crisis

"Today we have an early warning, with the ingredients of a perfect storm for a humanitarian crisis," said Andrew Lanyon, head of the Somalia Resilience Programme, a coalition of aid agencies.

"We need to move now from early warning to early action."

Seasonal rains crucial for farming and usually lasting from April to June are yet to start in key southern areas of Somalia, as well as in far northeastern regions.

"It is an alarming situation and people are losing hope," said Bashir Hashi from the Somali aid agency Wasda, which operates in some of the hardest hit southern regions, traditionally fertile areas and once the country's breadbasket.

However, farmers there are struggling to replant wilted crops, and herders are "slaughtering the small calves to save the big ones," Hashi said.

The southern regions of Middle and Lower Shabelle are the worst affected, frontline battle zones where African Union troops fighting alongside Somali government forces are battling Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents.

Northeastern Puntland, forming the tip of the Horn of Africa, is also hard hit by hunger.

"What we learned from the famine is that all of us did not respond to the warnings in time," Pomfret added, adding that aid appeals are just 12 percent funded, with a shortfall of $822m.

While warning statistics today are better than those preceding the 2011 famine, Pomfret said the situation remained dire.

"Things are better than they were, but they are much, much worse than they should be," he said.

During 2011, most of the famine-hit areas were under the control of the Shabaab, and the crisis was exacerbated by their draconian ban on most foreign aid agencies.

While the Islamists still control vast swathes of the countryside, AU troops have since seized a string of towns from the gunmen.



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