We want to overcome famine threat in northeastern Horn of Africa, not just postpone it ā€“ senior UN official [EN/SO]

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Hargeisa – The head of United Nations humanitarian efforts in Somalia today underlined the importance of improving communities’ resilience to better withstand the effects of recurring droughts, such as famines.

“After a year of very hard collective work, having avoided so far the famine, we don’t want to just say we have postponed it, we want to say that we have successfully fought and overcome the famine,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, said.

“Supporting people in emergency situations together with simultaneously building resilience,” he added, “will help prevent the next famine and not only delay it.”

The UN official was speaking in Hargeisa, the capital of 'Somaliland,' where he met with various high-level officials and civil society representatives. A key topic in his encounters was that while famine had been averted in the northeast of the Horn of Africa in 2017 – thanks to the efforts of Somalis and their international partners – the risk of famine associated with the drought is still very present, with millions of people in the region still in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

“The humanitarian effort is our foremost priority,” he said. “It is, of course, first on our minds.”

Results of a recent drought impact needs assessment, led by Somalia’s federal and regional governments with the support of international partners, point to food insecurity and rapid urbanization as some of the underlying causes of the humanitarian emergency.

“We are seeing a lot of displacement,” the UN official said. “We are seeing the cities and towns in ‘Somaliland’ growing, and more and more destitute people who have lost their livestock and livelihood coming to the cities in expectation of some support and assistance – many of these people will not be going back.”

In his meetings, the Humanitarian Coordinator – who also serves as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia and the UN Resident Coordinator – highlighted that, far from competing, both emergency relief and longer-term resilience-building efforts complemented each other with a view to breaking the cycle of drought and famine.

Mr. de Clercq added that in the next ten to 20 years, around 80 per cent of the population will be living in towns and cities, no longer relying on livestock or a nomadic lifestyle, noting that, “In our plans we need to support this reality.”

The UN official recalled what ‘Somaliland’ officials had previously told him almost two years ago: “‘We are going to have a drought and conditions will be very bad, but we want this cycle to stop, we don’t want to have to launch another relief operation every few years. We want the country to grow its own food, to produce its own wealth so that it doesn’t have to rely on outside handouts.’”

During his visit, Mr. de Clercq met with different key actors in ‘Somaliland,’ including the President, Vice-President and Foreign Minister as well as civil society representatives. Their discussions included resilience efforts which can be aligned with ‘Somaliland’s’ development plan, taking advantage of the existing coordination between the Government, UN agencies and programmes, and international partners.