Humanitarian aid and support from local communities have helped avert a dreaded famine declaration in Somalia this year, but the situation remains “catastrophic,” the UN said on Tuesday.
The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said the latest assessment found that, technically, Somalia was not yet in the grip of full-blown famine.
The report “does not lead to a declaration of famine at this point, in large part thanks to the response of humanitarian organisations and local communities,” OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva.
But, he warned, that “does not mean that people are not experiencing catastrophic food shortages”.
“They have kept famine outside the door, but nobody knows for how much longer,” he said.
“The underlying crisis has not improved”.
The United States announced in response that it was contributing another $411 million in emergency food and other relief to Somalia, bringing its contribution this year to $1.3 billion.
“The warnings of the Famine Review Committee serve not as a stamp of inevitability, but as an alarm bell alerting us to our last lingering opportunities to avoid catastrophe,” said Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development.
Somalia has been wracked by decades of civil war, political violence and an Islamist insurgency.
Millions of people are at risk of starvation across the wider Horn of Africa, in the grip of the worst drought in four decades after five consecutive failed rainy seasons wiped out livestock and crops.
If assistance is not scaled up, Laerke warned, “famine is expected to occur between April and June 2023 in southern Somalia,” including in the capital.
Agropastoral populations in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts, and displaced people in Baidoa town and in Mogadishu itself were most at risk, he said.
The report indicated surging numbers of people at the highest level on the UN’s five-scale food insecurity classification, known as IPC, which means they have dangerously little access to food and could face starvation.
When a large enough portion of a population is estimated to be at IPC level 5, a famine is declared.
Between last October and next June, the number of people at IPC5 in Somalia was expected to more than triple from 214,000 to 727,000, according to Tuesday’s report.
At the same time, some 8.3 million people across the country are expected to be at crisis level (IPC3) or above between April and June next year, up from 5.6 million today, it said.
A full 2.7 million of them were expected to be at IPC level 4, facing major food shortages, very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality.
“The situation can hardly get any worse,” Laerke warned.
He called countries “to step up and help the humanitarian organisations continue the very important and truly life-saving work” in Somalia.
James Elder, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF said that the famine declaration had, for now, only been averted.
If the world wants to delay a famine declaration further or stave it off altogether, this would require “backbreaking work with proper funding,” he said.
“There is no doubt that large numbers of children have died (and) that children are dying now”.