Famine Looms in Somalia as Crisis Marks 20th Year

March 07, 2011 | Elizabeth Campbell

The potential famine looming in Somalia is not being met with any sense of urgency by the U.S. Government. The humanitarian arm of USAID is currently frozen while the U.S. debates a new policy on the provision of humanitarian assistance in south and central Somalia. If the spring rains fail, recent assessments indicate that nearly five million people in southern and central Somalia will struggle to meet their basic food and water requirements for survival in the coming months. In the worst case scenario, total crop failure and massive livestock mortality would occur leading to extreme food insecurity across much of the region. Even if the rains are average, food security in the region will not improve until at least the summer. There are already significant population movements occurring both within Somalia and into neighboring countries. Malnutrition rates among children have risen and an estimated 2.4 million people, over 32% of the country's total population, are in need of aid. Experts are recommending that substantial assistance programs be implemented to address this looming disaster.

Over the last six months, the drought in South Central Somalia has deepened an already catastrophic humanitarian situation. The fighting between the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) , the African Union Peacekeeping Mission (AMISOM) and armed opposition groups has escalated in recent weeks and is expected to intensify even more over the coming months. The fighting has led to an increase in civilian deaths, forced displacement, and the destruction of homes and livelihoods. In January Kenya alone received 8,000 new refugees, which is the highest number in more than two years. According to UN estimates, at least 2.4 million Somalis are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes internally displaced people (IDPs) living in the Afgoye Corridor, home to the world's largest IDP camp. And yet many aid agencies are no longer working in these areas due insecurity and ongoing violence. Humanitarian access has grown more difficult over the last year and is proving to be equally as challenging in 2011.

Despite all of these obstacles, it is critical that the U.S. Government quickly come to a decision about its humanitarian policy in Somalia and begin to act. It is indeed one of the most challenging working environments in the world, but that alone should not be a deterrent. The needs of the civilians should drive all humanitarian action. Other considerations should be secondary to the provision of life saving assistance. As the Somali people mark two decades of fighting and civil war, they are at the very least deserving of a strong, coordinated international humanitarian response. Though power holders and decision makers across the world are fatigued by the conflict in Somalia, now is not the time to forget the suffering of innocent civilians.