July 20 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia amid drought and conflict that have left 3.7 million people, almost half the country’s population, in need of humanitarian assistance.
Famine exists in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, Mark Bowden, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told reporters today in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. The food-security crisis in the Horn of Africa nation is the worst since a famine in 1992, when 300,000 people died, according to Action Against Hunger, a New York-based humanitarian organization.
“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” Bowden said. At least $300 million is needed to address the famine, he said.
East African nations including Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The failure of crops and conflict between al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab insurgents has forced almost 800,000 refugees to flee Somalia to neighboring countries, a fifth of them since the beginning of this year, according to UN Refugee Agency data.
The Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, the world’s biggest such facility that was built to cater for 90,000 people, currently hosts 423,164 people, the UN said.
A famine is declared when malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent; more than two people per 10,000 die per day; and people are unable to access food and other basic necessities, the UN said in a statement today.
Malnutrition rates in the affected areas are “extraordinarily high” and it’s likely that tens of thousands of people have died, most of them children, Bowden said.
At least 11.3 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of food assistance because of drought, the Rome-based World Food Programme said today. The crisis in the region ranks as the “highest global humanitarian priority,” it said.
Bakool and Lower Shabelle are both controlled by al-Shabaab, which has been battling to seize power from Somalia’s Western-backed government since 2007. Earlier this month, al-Shabaab said it would lift a ban instituted last year on foreign humanitarian organizations, Internet news site SomaliaReport said on July 8.
UN agencies are “in a dialogue” with al-Shabaab about securing airstrips in areas under the insurgent group’s control to deliver aid, Bowden said. “The indications are the security for those strips has been secured,” he said.
Somalia has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
While some food is available in the affected regions, inflation of about 270 percent over the past year has put commodities out of reach of some residents, Bowden said. Among the measures being taken by aid agencies to alleviate the crisis are the distribution of cash vouchers to residents and discussions with traders to freeze their prices, he said.
“The real crisis facing the population of those areas is the collapse in their terms of trade,” Bowden said. “These are agro-pastoralists primarily who have lost their agricultural crops and have now have lost their cattle and are in a very difficult trading relationship.”
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