UN: Somalia Famine Over, but Millions Still Need Food Aid

Posted February 3rd, 2012 at 7:50 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations has officially declared an end to the famine in Somalia, but warns that nearly a third of the war-torn country's population is still in need of food aid.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said Friday that because of a good harvest and humanitarian aid, parts of southern Somalia have improved from famine conditions to a less-severe “emergency.”

But FAO Director-General Jose Graziano warned those gains were fragile and could be reversed without continued support.

“We got this season more than 200 percent improvements in some food staple crops and we can do that (again) if we are able to support the farmers in this forthcoming 90 days. We have less than 100 days to avoid another famine in the region, that is the important message.”

The Horn of Africa is emerging from its worst drought in 60 years. The drought killed tens of thousands of people, and forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Somali capital of Mogadishu in search of food and water.

At the height of the crisis, three-quarters of a million people were at risk of dying. The FAO said Friday that more than 2.3 million Somalis still need humanitarian assistance.

By U.N. standards, a “famine” means two adults or four children per 10,000 people die of hunger each day and a third of children are acutely malnourished.

The world body declared a famine in six parts of southern Somalia last year. Friday's announcement removed the designation from the last three of those areas, including the displaced persons camps of Mogadishu.

Efforts to deliver aid to Somalia have been hampered by militant group al-Shabab, which has restricted international relief efforts in the areas it controls. Last week, the group banned the International Committee of the Red Cross from operating in those areas.

The ICRC said in a statement late Thursday that it regrets al-Shabab's decision but remains committed to helping Somalis overcome humanitarian crises.

Mark Bowden is the United Nations humanitarian coordinator.

“Access to the vulnerable populations remains a major challenge. However, I believe that through inevitable planning, strengthening local partnerships, we have been able to mitigate the worst effects of the famine but we also really rely on the humanity of all parties to conflict to demonstrate their continuous commitment to the Somali people.