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Looming hunger threatens Somalia, UN food agency warns

Looming hunger threatens Somalia, UN food agency warns

Tens of thousands of people could face acute hunger as inadequate rainfall in south-central Somalia threatens the country's main grain harvest, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

The agency said that recent assessments in the Bay and Bakool regions showed that much of the vital sorghum crop had already wilted or largely failed. The situation is just as critical in neighbouring Gedo and Hiran, reports suggest.

"This is an early warning of a very serious food situation," said Kevin Farrell, WFP's country representative for Somalia. "The first signs of hardship have already appeared, with some poorer families barely able to afford one meal a day."

Mr. Farrell said that although WFP was not yet in a position to quantify the scale of the crop failure, preliminary indications showed that only 30 to 40 per cent of the normal Gu harvest was expected.

The Gu rainy season, which accounts for some 75 per cent of Somalia's annual crop production, normally runs from early April to mid-June. Reports from the affected areas indicate that even if the rains improve in the next few weeks, it is already too late for most crops to recover.

Exacerbating the situation, army worms and crickets have damaged a large proportion of the crop that withstood the drought, according to estimates by WFP field staff. Some maize and sorghum plants, which should stand one metre tall at this stage of the growing season, are less than 50 centimetres high. Most household storage pits are nearly empty and the majority of poor families now rely on markets to but their food.

Populations in the north of Somalia are also facing increased food insecurity, both as a result of poor rains -- particularly in the north-east -- and because a livestock import ban imposed by the Gulf States in September 2000 is badly hurting pastoralists and urban populations who rely heavily on the livestock trade.