Only a “massive” and immediate increase in funds and humanitarian aid can save Somalia from starvation, a UN spokesman has warned, as aid workers report children are starving “under our eyes” in a context of rapidly increasing levels of malnutrition.
In a message to G7 leaders meeting from Sunday in Germany, Michael Dunford, World Food Program (WFP) regional director for East Africa, said governments must make an urgent and generous donation if there should be any hope of averting catastrophe in the Horn of Africa country.
“We need the money and we need it now,” Dunford said. “Will we be able to avoid [a famine in Somalia]? Unless there’s… massive scaling from now on, that’s not going to be possible, quite frankly. The only way, at this stage, is for there to be a massive investment in humanitarian aid, and for all the stakeholders, all the partners, to come together to try to avoid that.
The Horn of Africa has suffered four consecutive failed rainy seasons and is experiencing its worst drought in four decades, a climate shock exacerbated by ongoing conflict and rising prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Across East Africa, 89 million people are now considered ‘acutely food insecure’ by the WFP, a number that has increased by almost 90% over the past year.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see [that rate of growth] to slow down. On the contrary, it seems to be accelerating,” Dunford said.
Last year the UK and other G7 leaders pledged $7bn (£5.7bn) to help countries prevent famine, but calls for Africa to the East have failed to raise enough funds to stave off hunger.
Now those same leaders are being urged to commit to an immediate funding program as Somalia, the worst affected country, descends into disaster. By September, at least 213,000 people in the worst affected areas are expected to face starvation, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report.
During a recent visit to the country, Claire Sanford, deputy humanitarian director of Save the Children, said she met mothers who had already buried several children in the past year and whose surviving children were now suffering from severe malnutrition. An acutely malnourished three-month-old baby whom Sanford met “never made it through the night, and we’ve heard a number of stories where he did”.
“I can honestly say that in my 23 years of humanitarian crisis response, this is by far the worst I have seen, particularly in terms of the level of impact on children,” he said. she declared. “The famine that my colleagues and I have witnessed in Somalia has worsened even faster than we feared.”
In 2011, Somalia suffered a famine that killed more than 250,000 people, mostly children, but Sanford said many people she met said conditions were even worse.
“We have truly failed as an international community in allowing the situation to reach its current level. In 2011, we swore as a community that we would never let this happen again. And yet, we have failed in that promise “, she added.
Dunford said insufficient funding had hampered efforts to learn from the 2011 famine. “We see children dying before our eyes, people who have lost their livelihoods. It’s not that we haven’t learned the lessons of 2011; there have been many very good lessons from this crisis. It’s just that we haven’t been able to implement it to the extent required due to lack of funding.
As of April, the UN had received just 3% of the funds for its $6 billion appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan.
Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the current crisis was partly due to the UK government’s “failure of compassion” and its decision to cut the overseas aid budget by 4 £.6bn last year.
According to the latest IPC assessment for Somalia, around 1.5 million children under five will face acute malnutrition by the end of the year, including 386,400 at risk of severe malnutrition . These numbers are only expected to increase.