Over 2.6 million Somalis could go hungry, UN agency warns
More than 2.6 million Somalis – comprising 35 per cent of the Horn of Africa nation’s population – need food assistance due because of the deteriorating humanitarian situation triggered by skyrocketing food prices, the weak currency and worsening drought, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cautioned today.
Violence has also forced nearly 900,000 people from the capital Mogadishu, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia to 1 million.
Compounding the problem is the delayed and worse-than-expected Gu seasonal rains, resulting in a potentially poor cereal harvest which will lead to shortages and push prices higher.
Due to two consecutive seasons of poor rains, 60,000 pastoralists require food aid in the country, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991.
Half of Somalia’s total population could face an acute food and livelihood crisis by the end of the year if the Gu rains are greatly below normal, food prices continue to soar and civil insecurity worsens, Cindy Holleman, FAO’s Chief Technical Adviser for Somalia, warned.
“It’s an extremely worrying situation,” she observed.
Cereal prices have surged by as much as 375 per cent in the past year, reaching historic levels.
Somalia is a net importer of cereals, and prices will remain at record highs due to the combination of climbing international prices, the sharp devaluation of the Somali shilling by more than 125 per cent in the last four months.
Although many poor urban households have slashed spending on meals and non-food items such as soap, kerosene, medicines and schooling, they still do not have enough money to meet their food needs, FAO said.
The agency appealed for safe access to crisis areas for aid workers, with risks to humanitarian actors increasing at a time of greatest need.
“The security situation is frustrating, but it hasn’t stopped us,” said Graham Farmer, who heads FAO’s Somalia operations.
“One can bring in food, but an important complementary approach is to get money into these communities,” he added. “We need to boost not only production, but also incomes and livelihoods in rural and peri-urban areas.”
FAO’s projects in Somalia include an emergency and rehabilitation programme, as well as livestock sector support through the provision of veterinary services and surveillance of animal health.
The agency also assists in the field of agricultural rehabilitation and diversification through integrated pest management schemes, provision of quality seeds and rebuilding irrigation infrastructures.
In the private sector, FAO helps microenterprises by providing training and boosting market linkages.
For its 2008 needs, the agency has appealed for over $18 million, and to date, it has received $3.8 million from the Governments of Sweden and Italy.