The top United Nations relief official in Somalia said today that international humanitarian support last year in the face of drought and famine in the country succeeded in saving numerous lives, but the situation remains fragile, with millions of people in need of continued assistance.
Last July famine was declared in three zones of Somalia and the UN and its partners appealed for $1.5 billion to tackle the crisis.
“The call for assistance in July received a tremendous response and we know that over the last year $1.3 billion was actually raised for Somalia… the majority of which has been spent,” said Mark Bowden, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, at a news conference in New York.
“That enabled us to have a tremendous impact on the both the nutritional status and mortality figures facing children and adults across Somalia,” he said.
The $1.5 billion appeal, the highest ever for humanitarian work in Somalia, was to support ongoing relief work in the country last year and to fund programmes to enable those who lost their livelihoods and were displaced from their land to go back and restart their lives afresh.
The “gains are very fragile and require the sustained support and engagement of the international community,” Mr. Bowden said.
He pointed out that last year’s assistance enabled relief organizations to reduce the number of people at risk of outright famine from 750,000 to 150,000 and prevented the spread of diarrhoeal illness and other infectious diseases through large-scale chlorination of water and increased health services.
“So, part of Somalia’s story is a success, but as ever in a place like Somalia success is limited,” said Mr. Bowden. “The fact [that] we managed to reduce the number of people actually classified in famine did not mean that there was no crisis. A lot of people remain in a very precarious situation… where the potential to turn back into famine continues to exist.”
Four million Somalis remain in need of assistance on a regular basis, including food aid, health care and water and sanitation services, according to Mr. Bowden.
“This year in particular we have the responsibility… to make sure that the displaced population… are able to return to their homes, able to return to their lands and able to regain their livelihoods.
“If we don’t we will end up with an increasingly large destitute population in Somalia,” he said, noting that the country already has 1.5 million long-tern internally displaced persons.