UN team warns of “real risk of famine” for drought-affected Somalia

Jul 28, 2022

“I depend on well-wishers for food donation together with my five children in the camp,” says Cibaado Mohammed, who recently fled her village in search of food and water. (UN Photo / Fardosa Hussein)

Baidoa, 28 July 2022 — When the last of her camels died, 35-year-old Cibaado Mohamed had to flee her village in search of water, food and shelter.

She thought of the last time a prolonged drought struck Somalia, when famine conditions killed a quarter of a million people in 2011. She was desperate to escape the threat of famine again.

After a long trek with her five young children, Cibaado reached Raama Cadeey camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Baidoa, South West State. Established in January, the camp is one of many that receives food, water, sanitation, shelter and protection support from UN agencies. It hosts thousands of displaced families, and a fresh influx of people arrive every day seeking aid. “I need a lot of help,” said Cibaado, holding her three-month-old baby outside their new home — a makeshift tent in the camp. “I need food and shelter, but there are a lot of us in this camp and it is not easy at all.”

Cibaado Mohammed, 35, standing next to her sister and children at Raama Cadeey IDP camp in Baidoa, Somalia on 27 July 2022. (UN Photo / Fardosa Hussein)

The climate crisis is hitting Somalia hard. The country suffered through four unprecedented and consecutive failed rainy seasons, and it now faces a potential fifth. Baidoa is one of the areas hardest hit by the drought; an estimated 333,000 people were displaced in South West State in the first six months of this year.

“Everyone has to mobilize”

A UN inter-agency team visited the IDP camp to assess the situation, and to meet with displaced Somalis and the President of South West State.

OCHA’s Director of Operations, Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, playing with an a baby at Raama Cadeey IDP camp in Baidoa, Somalia on 27 July 2022. (UN Photo / Fardosa Hussein)

The team included the Emergency Directors of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Head of the UN in Somalia.

“This situation is very dire,” said WFP’s Director of Emergencies, Margot Van Der Velden, while at the camp.

“Before coming here, we knew it was difficult. The number of people arriving at this camp and the pace of the needs…is not keeping up with the response that we need to have. We are disturbed by the situation we find here, and our commitment is to do even more,” she added.

Aerial view of women and children collect water from an IOM-supported water truck distributing water to drought-affected communities in Bohol Garas village, Jubbaland state, Somalia. (IOM/TransLieu / Zubeyr)

Through drought assistance and famine prevention programmes, humanitarian agencies and national and local authorities reached over 2.8 million Somalis with life-saving and livelihoods assistance between January and April 2022. They also scaled up their activities, focusing on famine prevention and targeting the most vulnerable people in areas of highest need.

However, limited resources cannot cope with the rising level of needs. Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan seeks close to US$1.5 billion to support vulnerable Somalis this year, but so far only 4.4 per cent of that amount has been received.

During their visit, UN officials noted that if this funding gap is not urgently addressed, the real risk of widespread famine may be inevitable.

FAO’s Director for Emergencies and Resilience, Rein Paulsen, explained: “We have problems with funding and attention. Since April last year and the failure of second rains, we have been ringing the alarm bells for anticipatory action for early response, but it hasn’t happened. Now everyone has to mobilize.”

Race against time

At the IDP camp, residents told UN officials of their critical hunger levels.

“We have no food or proper shelter here,” said 80-year-old Fatuma Hussein. “We are hungry and have not had a proper meal for a long time now. We are running all over the camp looking for help. Please, help us.”

Fatuma is one of about 7 million Somalis — close to half the population — facing crisis-level food insecurity. Women, children and the elderly have been particularly hard hit; they comprise the majority of the 805,000 people displaced by drought since January.

Access to food and milk is scarce due to rising food prices and livestock losses, and some 1.5 million Somali children face acute malnutrition through the end of this year.

​​OCHA’s Emergency Director, Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, said: “Families are coming [to the camp] on a weekly and daily basis, so we need to increase the capacity to be able to accommodate them and to provide the needed response.”

Worst drought in generations

UNDP’s Deputy Director of Crisis Bureau, George Conway, said: “We have talked to community members who say they have grandparents who have never seen anything like this. With the way the numbers of displaced are evolving very rapidly, it is probably the worst drought in generations.”

But he also noted: “Droughts in and of themselves do not cause famines…When you combine insecurity, violence, local governance failures, absence of service delivery systems and lack of livelihood alternatives, all these things combined create the condition in which famine can happen. So we have to work across all of those fronts. A deep investment in climate change adaptation is going to be absolutely necessary over the next years.”