Somalia Suffers Deadly Famine, Putting Six Million at Risk

Somalia declared a national crisis on February 28 as an estimated six million Somalis, nearly half of the population, are now considered food insecure and are at risk of starvation, according to the Guardian. The famine continues to worsen amid a severe drought following multiple seasons of record-low rainfall. On March 10 the UN urged for rapid response to prevent what they have called one of the worst humanitarian crises since 1945, as reported by the Guardian. VOA News has reported that Somalia, along with the entire Horn of Africa, desperately relies on rainfall because of its desert environment. Across Africa, herding and other livestock-related occupations make up the majority of day-to-day jobs. These individuals are the most heavily affected by drought, which has hindered their ability to properly care for livestock and caused animals to die from thirst, hunger, and disease.

United Nations Food and Agriculture representative Richard Trenchard brought the issue to light, explaining that the death of 50 to 70 percent of livestock herds is an “enormous hit for these pastoral families.” The loss of livestock results in the starvation of many of these families, whose entire income and livelihood rely on the health of their animals.

The death of livestock is central to the transition of shortages and droughts into full-scale famines. Many of the deadliest famines in history, including both Bengal famines and the Chalisa famine in India, occurred largely because of livestock deaths, as reported by Listverse. One reason why livestock can die so quickly is because hungry animals, especially camels, sheep, and goats, are much more likely to contract deadly illnesses. Illness actually accounts for significantly more livestock deaths than starvation, so the UN plans to combat this through major animal vaccine intervention.

The very limited aid being provided to Somalia in the form of money, food, and other supplies has had difficulty reaching needy civilians, largely due to the militant group Al-Shabab. The extremist group continues to block roads and entrances to rural villages, taking aid and supplies for themselves.

The humanitarian emergency may extend into the security and political sphere. The famine has economic consequences, undermining and destabilizing the new government. Somalia had its first organized presidential election in over 20 years in early February, with dual-U.S. citizen Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo coming to power. Farmajo’s presidency came as a refreshing and optimistic change, but the instability could threaten his power as Al-Shabab looks to make gains.

According to the Daily Nation, President Farmajo declared the famine a national disaster, calling on other governments and aid organizations to urgently respond. New UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasized the need for global cooperation during his visit to Somalia, saying, “It is exactly because it is tragic and because it is hopeful that it makes sense to make a very strong appeal to the international community to support Somalia at the present moment.” The UN chief called for a goal of raising $825 million to support six million Somalis for a period of six months. Much remains to be seen, but the global community must act urgently and graciously to prevent the deaths of millions of starving Somalis in their time of dire need.