A disastrous drought in Somalia could leave around 2.2mn people, 18 per cent of the population, faced with severe hunger during the July-September period, as warned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
The UN agency issued a special alert on Somalia, indicating that the number of hungry people in the country this year is expected to be 40 per cent higher than estimates made at the beginning of 2019.
A deteriorating nutritional status is also of major concern, according to the alert. Acute malnutrition rates, as well as the number of acutely malnourished children being admitted to therapeutic feeding centres, have sharply increased in 2019.
“Rains in April and early May can make or break Somalis' food security for the whole year as they are crucial for the country's main annual harvest in July, following the ‘Gu’ rainy season,” said Mario Zappacosta, senior economist and lead of the global information and early warning system (GIEWS) at FAO.
“A significant lack of rains in April and early May has rendered dry and barren up to 85 per cent of the croplands in the country's breadbaskets, and according to the latest projections, food grown during the ‘Gu’ season is likely to be 50 per cent below average,” he added.
The latest projection is based on data gathered by FAO experts including sophisticated analyses of rainfall, temperatures, water availability and vegetation health that point to the worst drought in years. Some rains are expected in May, but these will be insufficient and arrive too late for crop and pasture recovery before the onset of the dry season.
For example, in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, which produces more than 60 per cent of maize grown during the ‘Gu’ season, severe dryness has prevailed so far, with some scattered, below-average rains occurring in late April and early May.
Drought conditions also affected other major crop producing areas including the Bay region's ‘sorghum belt,’ which accounts for more than half of the country's sorghum production during the ‘Gu’ season and the ‘cowpea belt’ in Middle Shabelle, Mudug and Galgaduud regions.
Action needed to prevent loss of lives
FAO is scaling up its response to prevent an already alarming humanitarian situation from getting even worse. For this, FAO urgently needs more funds as it aims to support two million drought-affected people this year by providing critical livelihood support such as cash assistance, quality seeds, tools and other agricultural services so farmers can make the most of the next planting season.
To protect their remaining livestock, herders require vital support such as water and supplementary feed. Countrywide animal health campaigns must also be rolled out quickly - starting with emergency livestock treatments to keep animals alive, healthy and productive.
Currently, FAO has a funding gap of about US$115mn in Somalia.