After withdrawing from Mogadishu earlier this month, Al Qaida-inspired Al Shabaab is placing more restrictions on the movement of people, particularly men, in areas under its control.
In Somalia’s Al Shabaab-controlled Kismayu, witnesses said malnourished children were dying due to the lack of food aid.
Gulf of Aden: A dangerous gateway
Yemen is host to the second largest Somali refugee population, with nearly 192,000. About 15,000 of those have arrived since in January.
They cross the Gulf of Aden on what are often unseaworthy and overcrowded boats. Many do not survive the dangerous crossing.
The agency said it expected more refugees to arrive in Somalia over the next months, but thought they were waiting for calmer seas. The route is also often used by migrants who pay smugglers to get them to Yemen, seen as a gateway to wealthier parts of the Middle East.
At least 6.2 million people in Somalia — or just about half the country — are grappling with the prospect of an acute food shortage due to deepening drought. And on Saturday, Somalia’s prime minister made it clear that the conditions are exacting a stark human cost.
Over a two-day span, at least 110 people died of hunger in just a single region, Hassan Ali Khaire said Saturday during a meeting with the Somali National Drought Committee.
“I can confirm that Bay region in the south and other parts of Somalia are deteriorating rapidly,” Khaire said, “and my estimation is that half of the country’s population has felt the impact of this drought.”
The country already declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. As Somalia has dried up, Khaire says the lack of clean water has increased the risks of waterborne diseases, while the ability of malnourished people to fight off those diseases has plummeted.
“It is a difficult situation for the pastoralists and their livestock. Some people have been hit by [hunger] and diarrhoea at the same time,” Khaire’s office said in a statement. “The Somali government will do its best, and we urge all Somalis, wherever they are, to help and save the dying Somalis.”
The United Nations is putting out urgent calls for aid, saying as many as 5 million people need aid in the shadow of a looming famine.
“Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies,” the news service reports. “Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.”
If a full-blown famine should descend on Somalia, the World Health Organization says it would be the country’s third famine in a quarter-century — and the second in less than a decade.
Citing a joint report by the U.N. and the United States Agency for International Development, famine killed about 258,000 people in Somalia between 2010 and 2012.
The U.N. is currently appealing for $864 million in humanitarian aid, while “the U.N. World Food Program recently requested an additional $26 million plan to respond to the drought.” The country has been hit by a severe drought that has affected more than 6.2 million people who are currently facing food insecurity and lack of clean water because of rivers that are drying up and recent years with little rain. Earlier in the week, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, warned the drought could lead to famine. “If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key state-building and peace-building initiatives,” he warned, adding that a drought — even one this severe — does not automatically have to mean catastrophe. According to the United Nations, “Somalia is in the grip of an intense drought, induced by two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. In the worst-affected areas, inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock, while communities are being forced to sell their assets, and borrow food and money to survive.” The United Nations adds that “the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) — managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — have found that over 6.2 million, or more than half of the country’s population, are now in need of assistance, up from 5 million in September.”
“We estimate that almost half of the Somali population, 3.7 million people, are affected by this crisis and a full 2.8 million people live in the south, the most seriously affected area. It is likely that tens of thousands will already have died, the majority of these being children.”
The United Nations says a lack of rain over the past few years has created a famine in two areas in southern Somalia: Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Officials say the famine could spread to other areas.
This is the first time since nineteen ninety-one that the UN has declared a famine in Somalia. The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in sixty years. UN officials have said more than eleven million people are in need of food aid. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when the former government was toppled by clan militias that later turned on each other. For decades, generals, warlords and warrior types have reduced this once languid coastal country in Eastern Africa to rubble. Somalia remains a raging battle zone today, with jihadists intent on bringing down a transitional government which relies on African Union peacekeepers and Western funding for survival.
No amount of outside firepower has brought the country to heel. Not thousands of American Marines in the early 1990s. Not the enormous United Nations mission that followed. Not the Ethiopian Army storming into Somalia in 2006. Not the current peacekeepers, who are steadily wearing out their welcome.
Somalia continues to be a caldron of bloodshed, piracy and Islamist radicalism. There are currently 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, but they are struggling to beat back Islamist fighters, who are rallying around Al Shabab, a brutal group that is aligned with Al Qaeda and has turned Somalia into a focal point of American concerns on terrorism .
In 2011 Somalia experienced a full-blown famine in several parts of the country, with millions of people on the brink of starvation and aid deliveries complicated by the fact that militants control the famine zones.
The Islamist militants controlling southern Somalia forced out Western aid organizations in 2010, yanking away the only safety net just when one of the worst droughts in 60 years struck. When the scale of the catastrophe became clear, with nearly three million Somalis in urgent need and more than 10 million at risk, the militants relented and invited aid groups back. But few rushed in because of the complications and dangers of dealing with the militants.
American government rules banning material aid to the Shabab complicate aid efforts. Aid officials have worried that paying so-called taxes to the militants who control needy areas could expose them to criminal prosecution.