UN: Famine Averted in Somalia

The current drought in Somalia, the longest in over 40 years, has forced over one million people to leave their homes. PHOTO CREDIT: WFP/Gabrielle Menezes

The U.N. humanitarian office, UNOCHA, says famine has been averted because most of those in need received assistance from relief organizations and host communities.

Despite the efforts to provide millions with lifesaving supplies, food insecurity remains “catastrophic”, OCHA said.

According to aid agencies, needs are expected to rise between December and June from 214,000 to 727,000 people as drought, conflict and displacement continue to threaten people’s lives and livelihood. 

“Fatality numbers are difficult. I have anecdotally sat with women who have shown me mounds next to their tents in a displacement camp where they have buried their two and three-year-olds”, said James Elder, the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF spokesperson.

The number of children under the age of five admitted to hospitals with more severe malnutrition increased significantly in 2022, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). At least 1.8 million children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, and by July 2023, it’s predicted that number will rise to over 513,550.

“While the latest report indicates that famine has been averted in the current period, Somalia’s humanitarian situation remains dire,” said Daud Jiran, Mercy Corps Country Director for Somalia. “The number of people affected, the length and severity of the drought, and the rising death rates in many places mean that the number of deaths could be similar to what happened during the 2011 drought when over half of the 260,000 deaths happened before a famine (IPC Phase 5) was declared.”

Jiran said children will continue to die in Somalia even if a famine is not formally declared. 

“Climate change and conflict are robbing Somali children of their future as we watch. We have seen mothers who can do nothing but watch in despair and pain as their children starve to death because they have nothing to feed them.”

The persistent drought in Somalia has affected more than 7.8 million people and 1.3 million have been displaced.

“These communities urgently need access to water, food, shelter and other basic necessities, as well as specialized health care to treat malnutrition. We cannot – and must not – fail the people of Somalia again, and we cannot wait for a famine declaration that may never come or for more rainy seasons to fail,” said Jiran.  

The 2022 Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) met the needs of 7.6 million people, with a $1 billion funding gap as of December 13.

Aid groups say more funding is needed to support millions with food, water, and medicine. Increased funding will also help communities to rebuild their livelihood and prepare for drought in the future.