Nairobi - The United Nations today warned that if the coming rainy season fails, a major disaster could unfold in parts of Somalia.
Already, up to six hundred and fifty thousand people throughout the country are experiencing severe food and water shortages as a result of prolonged drought in several areas.
Climate experts who recently met at the 5th annual Climate Outlook Forum for the Greater Horn of Africa, predict that there is a 50 percent chance the April Gu rains - which account for three-quarters of yearly crop yields, and are crucial for livestock pasture - might fail, tipping the balance from misery to tragedy.
"We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst," says Randolph Kent, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. "The UN is already there on the ground, and looking at ways to gear up operations if things get worse."
The situation is of grave concern in the southern regions of Bakool, Gedo, Bay and Hiran where up to 425,000 Somalis don't have enough to meet their daily food needs. Bakool region in the south has suffered seven consecutive poor harvests, and three poor rainy seasons back to back, drastically reducing crops and livestock which are the mainstays of the economy, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
A meagre 113 tons of sorghum was produced during the most recent harvest in Bakool, compared with over 1500 tons in the same season during pre-war years.
Elsewhere, in Somalia's northwest, northeast and central regions, up to 200,000 people are facing food and water shortages as well.
"We are still five to six months away from the next harvest," says Kevin Farrell, WFP Representative for Somalia. "Even if we do get some rain, it won't solve the immediate needs of the people most in need."
Malnutrition in children under 5 years of age has demonstrated an alarming rise in some areas: According to recent surveys by UNICEF, malnutrition has reached 30 percent in Rabdure town, 22 percent in Hoddur, and 21 percent in Wajid (all in Bakool region), and 24 percent in Bardera (Gedo region). Some five percent of these children are severely malnourished and require emergency therapeutic feeding.
"The survey results reflect a current situation in which children are highly vulnerable," says Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative for Somalia. "Always the first to suffer the effects of food shortages, as the impact of the drought begins to be felt, their chances of survival will automatically go into a worrying downward spiral."
Wells are drying up due to overuse, people and livestock forced to crowd around the sources that remain, leading inevitably to pollution. For the past eight months hundreds of families have migrated out from Gedo and Bakool regions toward riverine areas, south to Baidoa and Mogadishu, and as far northeast as Bossaso and Las Anod in search of food, water, and work in order to survive. Some Somalis have even crossed into Ethiopia in the hope of finding better conditions there.
Somalia's plight is mirrored throughout most of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia's key Belg rains are four weeks late, and northeastern Kenya is also suffering from drought. The problems compound one another. For example, when rains fail in Ethiopia, the rivers run low in Somalia. And the greater regional population suffers en masse. By the end of April, it will be clear how successful the rains have been.
"In the next few weeks we will all be sky watching," says Farrell. "The bottom line is, if the rains fail, we will be dealing with a major catastrophe in Somalia."
Compounding the problem, security remains a major concern. In order to get help to the people who need it, there must be good security on the ground, and cooperation from Somali authorities.
Journeys into the heart of Somalia are often difficult due to poor infrastructure and the threat of attack on food convoys. Whilst the large fleet of trucks are operated by private transporters and are heavily guarded, these are often at risk from armed bandits.
Responding to the major disaster which this drought poses, will require support from the international aid community. Currently the UN system and its partners in Somalia are working together on emergency preparedness plans for procurement and provision of food, health and nutritional supplies.
For more information, please contact the following information officers, based in Nairobi:
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator's office Sonya Laurence Green Tel: 254 2 448434
UN World Food Programme (WFP) Lindsey Davies or Semin Abdulla Tel: 254 2 622179/622945/42
UNICEF UN Coordination Unit for Somalia Julia Spry-Leverton or Robert Kihara Bernard Harbourne Tel: 254-2 623958 Tel: 254 2 448434
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