By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Following a strong harvest and an upswing in aid, the United Nations announced that the famine that had plagued Somalia since July was over on Friday. Though this is good news for a country that has seen very little of it over the past 20 years, it does not necessarily mean that the situation has improved. An estimated 2.34 million Somalis still require humanitarian support.
The UN rates situations such as this on a five-level scale based on death rate, with “famine” at the highest level. Friday’s declaration reduces the Somali food shortage to level four, which is referred to as a “humanitarian crisis.” Part of the reason for this change in status is the output of the most recent harvest. The UN reported this year’s harvest to be double the average output over the past 17 years, allowing a significant reduction in food prices. Though the news was promising, the organization was unwilling to declare victory.
“The crisis is not over,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, the new director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, who had just returned from a visit to the war-torn East African country. “It can only be resolved with a combination of rains and continued, co-ordinated, long-term actions that build up the resilience of local populations and link relief with development.”
Somalia remains in dire straits. The country has been devastated by a long chain of misfortune that the BBC described as “a toxic mixture of drought, war, high taxes levied by armed groups, and rising food prices.” Combat is a major player in the present crisis. Al-Shabab, a militant Islamic group connected to Al Qaeda, controls vast swathes of territory in the southern and central areas, which were hit the hardest by the most recent drought.
The organization has banned numerous aid groups since November 2011 for conducting what it considered to be “activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic state.” On Monday, it expelled the International Committee for the Red Cross, one of the last groups permitted to continue operations, for allegedly distributing expired food. But even before then, the ICRC had discontinued full scale delivery of food and seeds due to attacks on aid workers traveling to distribution sites. Al-Shabab denies the claims and said the ICRC was conducting the interference on its own.
Regardless of the reason for the ban, the improving situation can easily deteriorate in a hurry, according to Mark Bowden, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia..
“The gains are fragile and will be reversed without continued support,” Bowden said. “There are 1.7 million people in southern Somalia still in crisis. Millions of people still need food, clean water, shelter and other assistance to survive and the situation is expected to deteriorate in May.”
Areas under Al-Shabab control are in a particularly precarious position. In addition to the newly-named “humanitarian crisis,” the area is a site of ongoing military conflict. The group is facing incursions from Kenya, Ethiopia, and African Union forces in the capital, Mogadishu.
For more information, please see:
BBC — Famine Conditions in Somalia Have Ended, UN Says — 03 February 2012
Garowe Online — UN Declares Somalia’s Famine Over, but Declares Millions Across East Africa Still in Crisis — 03 February 2012
Hiiraan — Somali Regions No Longer Famine Stricken – U.N. — 03 February 2012
New York Times — U.N. Says Famine in Somalia Is Over, but Risks Remain — 03 February 2012
Shabelle News — UN Says Famine Over in Somalia, Emergency Remains — 03 February 2012
Impunity Watch — Al-Shabab Ejects Red Cross from Somalia — 02 February 2012