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Somalia famine ends, but situation still dire

FAO’s new Director-General prioritizes Horn of Africa

Photo: ©AFP/Tony Karumba
Irrigated crops in Dollow.
3 February 2012, Nairobi - The United Nations declared an end to famine conditions in Somalia today, but warned that with recurrent droughts in the Horn of Africa hunger remains a threat unless long-term measures are taken to restore food security.

According to a new report by the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), the number of people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance in Somalia has dropped from 4 million to 2.34 million, 31 percent of the population. At the height of the crisis, 750,000 people were at risk of death.

“Long-awaited rains coupled with substantial agricultural inputs and the humanitarian response deployed in the last six months are the main reasons for this improvement,” FAO’s new Director-General José Graziano da Silva told a press conference in Nairobi after visiting southern Somalia.

“However, the crisis is not over. It can only be resolved with a combination of rains and continued, coordinated, long-term actions that build up the resilience of local populations and link relief with development.

“We can’t avoid droughts, but we can put measures in place to try to prevent them from becoming a famine. We have three months until the next rainy season,” he added.

Graziano da Silva emphasized that FAO will step up its current efforts in the Horn of Africa and highlighted that agriculture is a key factor in establishing peace and stability in the region.

Successful response

According to FSNAU/FEWS NET, adequate rainfall between October and December 2011 coupled with agricultural and humanitarian interventions allowed farmers to produce and buy more food.

As part of its emergency response, FAO distributed seeds and fertilizers to Somali farmers. In the regions of Bay and Shabelle they took advantage of rains and the inputs provided by FAO and other agencies to double their production of maize and sorghum, their highest harvest in years.

FAO also rehabilitated 594 kilometers of irrigation canals and treated 2.6 million livestock at risk of diseases and infections associated with drought.

In the last six months, FAO, UNICEF, WFP and international NGOs have also operated cash-for-work and food-voucher programmes, instead of relying only on food and input handouts. The cash allowed families to buy food locally and remain in their home areas while also stimulating economic recovery and helping rehabilitate local infrastructure for agriculture and herding.

This mix of agricultural and humanitarian interventions has contributed to a significant reduction in local cereal prices in most of the vulnerable areas in the south, improving purchasing power for poor households. In sorghum-producing areas, for example, the amount of cereals that people could buy with one day’s work increased from four to 14 kilograms between July  and December 2011.

Although much increased,  Somalia's last crop was from a secondary harvest which only contributes 10 percent of annual cereal requirements, meaning that stocks will only last into the next planting season starting between April and June. The report also warned that an estimated 325,000 acutely malnourished Somali children remain at risk.

The current crisis continues to affect the whole Horn of Africa region with 9.5 million people in need of emergency assistance in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, down from 13 million at the height of the crisis.

Renewed commitment

The FAO Director-General also called for a renewed commitment by all stakeholders involved - governments, regional bodies such as the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the private sector, civil society organizations, humanitarian and development actors, and the peoples of the region themselves. He also committed FAO to working within the framework of existing initiatives, such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

Accompanied by the Chairman of the Committee on World Food Security, Ambassador Yaya Olaniran, and senior FAO staff members, the Director-General visited the village of Dollow, in the Gedo Region of Somalia to assess the situation first hand and see the work being done by FAO and its partners.

“I had a rare opportunity to meet with Somali farmers and herders in Dollow. I witnessed the impact that we can make in their lives. And, most importantly, I saw what they can do for themselves, if they receive the right support at the right time,” he said.

In 2009-2010, FAO supported 1,500 agricultural households and 35 000 pastoralist households in the Gedo Region to build their resilience. This allowed them to to cope with the recent famine without outside assistance as they could produce and sell their own food.