Nearly 12 million people living the Horn of Africa countries are on the verge of starvation and 50,000 children in Somalia are facing death as the intensifying food crisis in the region is on its way to become “far worse” than the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, according to Save the Children.
Yet, the region is in danger of being forgotten as donors are pulled in too many different directions, a spokeswoman for the charity told The Independent.
Horn of Africa, the easternmost extension of African land, is home to Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Save the Children’s warning comes after the United Nations declared an official famine in parts of South Sudan on Monday and follows a report earlier this month suggesting that four African countries – South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia – could be heading towards severe food insecurity later this year.
An estimated 363,000 children are already suffering from malnutrition in Somalia, 71,000 of them severe cases. The Somalia Nutrition Cluster is predicting this number could rise to 944,000 cases later in 2017, 185,000 of them severe, unless urgent aid is provided to the severely drought-stricken country. The UN has warned that more than 50,000 children are now facing death.
“What we’re seeing on the ground suggests we’re at a tipping point – a significant worsening of malnutrition cases tells us a famine isn’t far off,” said Hassan Saadi Noor, Save the Children’s country director in Somalia.
Aid organisations have a “tiny window” in which to intervene “to divert a really disastrous humanitarian crisis”, Tom Arup, a member of staff deployed to the country told The Independent.
A spokeswoman for Save the Children said the Horn of Africa region is one of only two places worldwide currently identified as a “category one emergency” by the organisation – the other being war-torn Syria – due to the sheer number of lives in danger there.
The country is currently in the midst of its worst drought since 1950, with parts of the Somalia not having seen rain for two years. Four successive crops have failed, making the scale of the looming crisis almost unprecedented.
“This drought is exceptional in that it is affecting all parts of the country,” Arup said. “In 2011 in Somalia you had a drought that led to a famine that ended up killing over a quarter of a million people. It hit a couple of areas of the country really badly, but this time the entire country is in drought conditions. People in all parts of the country are facing some level of food insecurity”.
He added that some places are worse affected than others, but “there’s no respite, there are no parts of Somalia you can move to that aren’t affected”.
If this year’s rains do not arrive in a couple of months, he said, it will be “truly catastrophic” for the majority of the population, who rely on the land to survive.
Reports from the hardest-hit areas of the country suggest some people are now going days without food and are resorting to feeding livestock with cardboard in a desperate attempt to keep their remaining animals alive.
In the Puntland village of Yaka, Iftin Yusuf Mohamed, a nurse working at the local maternal and child health clinic, told Save the Children the situation was getting worse every day.
“There is a real shortage of food, medication and of water supplies, and if we don’t get it now then it could be a human tragedy with high mortality rates,” she said.
According to UNDP, Somalia has a 73 percent poverty rate and it is among the world’s poorest nations. The average life expectancy is 50 for men and 53 for women. Nearly 2 million children do not have access to education. UNICEF also estimated that about 60 percent children within Somalia in 2015 were not enrolled in school and one in seven Somali children died before their fifth birthday in 2015. This is attributed to disease, hunger and lack of proper health care.