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Hunger threatens half a million Somalis, WFP says

Hunger threatens half a million Somalis, WFP says

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that more than half a million Somalis faced a serious food crisis following the almost total failure of the main rains in the southern part of the country.

In a statement issued in Nairobi, the food agency said the worst affected areas were Gedo and the Bay-Bakool sorghum belt that borders southeastern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya. Although this area usually produces 70 to 75 per cent of the annual sorghum crop, it is not expected to reach more than 10 per cent of the average yield this year, WFP warned.

"The effects of the crop failure in what is one of the most productive areas of Somalia - the Bay-Bakool sorghum belt - could be very far reaching," said Kevin Farrell, WFP's Country Director for Somalia who has just returned from some of the worst affected villages. "It means that elsewhere there will be less food available in the markets and prices can be expected to increase significantly in the coming months."

The dry weather has also seriously affected the grazing and fodder conditions for livestock. Many families have already begun to take their animals elsewhere in search of better grazing while others have left the area seeking alternative means of survival. Migration is normal in this region, but this year it has started far too early.

In addition, the ban on livestock from Somalia imposed in September 2000 by the Gulf States - traditionally big markets for the livestock raised in the northern region - has already badly hurt the economy of local pastoral populations, WFP said.

"The situation is extremely worrying," Mr. Farrell said. "Somalia will need 40,000 metric tonnes of food assistance in the coming months if we are to avoid a humanitarian tragedy."

WFP is deeply concerned that food is made available to those worst affected by this drought, and has already issued an appeal for 20,000 metric tonnes of food assistance for Somalia. "We are appealing to donors to respond urgently," the WFP official said. "We must be in a position to act now to prevent more people from leaving their homes and losing what little they have. We want to avoid a catastrophe in the months to come."