By Mary Hearty

An estimated 20.5 million people across the Horn of Africa are reportedly facing a dire and entirely avoidable hunger crisis, with Somalia being hit hardest.

According to a statement by the principals of Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) of the World Health Organization on food security and nutrition situation analysis in Somalia, famine is especially unfolding in two areas in the Bay region namely Baidoa and Burhakaba in South-Central Somalia, and will likely last until March 2023 if humanitarian aid is not significantly and immediately scaled up.

Recent climate forecasts indicate a likely below-average rainfall during the forthcoming October to December 2022 Dry season, for a record fifth consecutive season.

As a result, crop and livestock production prospects and income from agricultural employment are expected to be poor in Bay region through at least the first quarter of 2023.

Additionally, the projection of famine in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts is based largely on currently available information that minimal assistance will be distributed in Bay in November and December due to funding constraints.

While the famine projection implies that special attention and priority be given to Bay Region, urgent scaling up of assistance is also required to address worsening humanitarian conditions and rising needs in other parts of Somalia.

Somalia is a country in which many families have yet to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last regional drought in 2017, or the last famine in 2011, leaving many households with few resources to confront the effects of the current drought.

In absence of an urgent increase in humanitarian assistance, more than seven million people will continue to face outright starvation and grave hunger.

With five consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, exhausted coping capacities of affected communities, depletion of livelihood assets, and other exacerbating factors, humanitarian assistance will be required to address high levels of needs beyond December 2022.

The IASC emphasizes that women, particularly pregnant and lactating women, and children under the age of five are among the most vulnerable. And so, they require urgent assistance to avert a worst-case scenario.

Notably, the Committee states starvation and death are likely already occurring, noting that during the 2011 famine, about 50% of the more than 250,000 people who died, did so before the official declaration, with children accounting for at least half of the cases.

Bay Region has a history of famine as it was one of the regions where famine claimed thousands of lives in 2011. It was also the epicenter of the humanitarian crisis in 2017 when severe drought led to agro-pastoral and displaced populations facing a risk of famine, which was only averted due to timely, robust and sustained humanitarian assistance.

Local authorities, governments, UN agencies and NGOs have been issuing clear warnings of catastrophic hunger levels for more than a year. These alerts have been largely overlooked and, despite global commitments to anticipating crises, funds for these life-saving activities have not reached the scale needed.

“Famine declarations should not be the only trigger for meaningful action,” the IASC notes, urging all actors to facilitate immediate and safe access for humanitarian operations.

The IASC has also appealed to donors to provide immediate, flexible funding to enable humanitarian agencies on the ground, particularly local and international NGOs, to rapidly scale up and prevent more deaths, protect livelihoods and avert a deepening catastrophe.

“Together, we have averted famine before. We can and must do so again. In a world of staggering wealth, it is unacceptable that people are dying of hunger. We must take action now,” the IASC statement reads.

Additional information by Joyce Ojanji