Official Statement by International Rescue Committee
With the April – May rains in Somalia this year expected to be below normal for the sixth consecutive season, the number of households affected by the worst drought in the region in decades continues to grow every day.
At least 8.3 million people in Somalia are on the brink of catastrophic famine as aid agencies fail to secure sufficient funding required to avert the crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), is working with local government and other aid agencies in supporting those affected by the food crisis.
IRC has been able to raise $15 million but the growing needs outpace the resources we have.
The funding shortage comes at a time when another fifth consecutive failed rainy season has been experienced, putting more populations at risk of starvation.
Although humanitarian assistance has helped to delay an official famine declaration in Somalia, the International Rescue Committee warns the thresholds for famine are likely to be met in April-June 2023 as current funding levels are dropping.
This will push communities already on the brink of famine over the top. IRC, therefore, calls upon donor countries to increase funds that will help provide treatment for children and women with severe malnutrition, enable access to clean drinking water, and vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases like measles, cholera, and polio, as malnourished children are at increased risk of the deadly disease.
In the past year alone, at least 1.7 million people were displaced by drought and conflict in Somalia.
The displaced are faced with the double tragedy of extreme food insecurity and health crisis exacerbated by poor sanitation and water scarcity. The result at local IRC health clinics across the country has been both a rise in patients with diseases like measles and cholera, as well as children suffering from acute malnutrition.
Shashwat Saraf, IRC, Regional Emergency Director East Africa said:
“The current lack of an official famine declaration should not send the message that all is well in Somalia – we are already seeing people die every day from extreme hunger, malnutrition, and preventable diseases.
Under these conditions, households will not recover from livestock losses and further reduction is expected, crop harvest will be limited and an increased disease outbreak is likely to occur.
We urge international leaders and donors to learn from experiences of the 2011 famine where over 250,000 people died, half of who died before the official famine was declared.”
The UN High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine (HLTF) should prioritize the six countries at the highest risk, including Somalia. The task force’s membership should be expanded to include international financial institutions, local and international NGOs and civil society groups, the states like Somalia which are affected by food insecurity, and leading donors like USAID and emerging donors.
The HLTF should focus on unlocking the political will to respond to a famine risk, mobilizing investments at scale to respond to early warning systems, and coordinating collective action across the international community.
In addition to coordinating the global response, the HLTF should mobilize a donor-pledging conference focused on the areas of highest need.
Future Famine Planning
For future famines, the HLTF should prioritize prevention when it’s still possible to avert large-scale loss of life, but for situations like Somalia when the window for prevention has closed, it is critical to rapidly scale up funding to humanitarian and civil society groups working directly with people in need to save lives.
Funding for famine response will help groups like the IRC provide treatment for children and women with acute malnutrition, access to clean drinking water, and vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases like measles, cholera, and polio, particularly for malnourished children who are at increased risk of the deadly disease.
Since March 2022, IRC has scaled up its emergency response activities to 10 Districts in 4 States. The focus has been on priority 1 Districts (IPC-5) as classified by UNOCHA.
The IRC primarily targets vulnerable individuals who have been impacted by the drought and conflict including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities in IDP camps and host communities.
The IRC has focused its support on the following sectors: health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), economic recovery and development (ERD), and women’s protection and empowerment. As of December 2022, we have reached almost half a million drought-affected people in Somalia.
History of Relief Efforts
East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programs globally, with operations in Somalia for over 40 years, Kenya for 30 years, and Ethiopia for 20 years.
Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.
About the International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an organization dedicated to providing relief for refugees and those affected by conflict, persecution, and poverty. Since its founding in 1933, the IRC has helped over 31.5 million people across the globe.
The organization provides a wide range of services, from education to economic support. The IRC also works to help individuals integrate into their new homes and build self-reliance through access to healthcare, job training opportunities, legal assistance, and other forms of aid.
Through its network of field offices located in 40 countries around the world, the IRC can deliver life-saving supplies such as food and water along with medical care and shelter for people who have been displaced due to war or natural disasters.
The IRC is doing its utmost to support those affected by the drought in Somalia, but there needs to be a greater international response if we are to prevent a large-scale loss of life.
The UN High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine should prioritize and coordinate collective action from all stakeholders, including donors like USAID and emerging donors, as well as local and international NGOs and civil society groups.
It’s also important that future famines are prevented with early warning systems being responded to quickly before it’s too late.
We have seen what can happen when famine strikes – over 260,000 people died during the 2011 famine in East Africa alone – so let’s ensure this doesn’t happen again by taking proactive steps now.
Sources: THX News, International Rescue Committee & Relief Web.