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Somalia: U.N. issues famine alert


The U.N. has issued a famine alert, warning that Somalia is on the brink of its second famine in six years, with drought already killing people in the north and crisis looming on a catastrophic scale.

The number of people in need of food aid has risen to 6.2 million from 5 million in September, according to the U.N.

“This is the time to act to prevent another famine in Somalia,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, during the launch of the latest food security and nutrition data in the nation’s capital, Mogadishu.

The situation for children is especially grave. Some 363,000 acutely malnourished children are in need of critical nutrition support, including life-saving treatment for more than 71,000 severely malnourished children.

“If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key State-building and peacebuilding initiatives,” he warned, adding that a drought – even one this severe – does not automatically have to mean catastrophe “if we can respond early enough with timely support from the international community.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Somalia is in the grip of an intense drought, induced by two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. In the worst affected areas, inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock, while communities are being forced to sell their assets, and borrow food and money to survive.

In 2011, a drought-induced famine killed 260,000 people, half of whom died before the official declaration of famine, with war and lack of access for humanitarian aid making the situation worse.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991 and its weak, Western-backed government is struggling to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al Shabaab.

The country is however currently going through a historic political process. It has sworn in a new Parliament and is in the process of planning presidential elections.