Today’s declaration by the United Nations of famine in Somalia makes official what aid agencies have been seeing for nearly a year – severe drought and the world’s worst food crisis has put 10 million people in desperate need of assistance and donor countries are not doing nearly enough to avert disaster, save lives and protect livelihoods.
The United Nations estimates that $1 billion is needed to stave off a major humanitarian catastrophe, yet only around $200 million in new money has been provided over these last two critical weeks. In 1984-85 when a major famine was declared in the region, more than 1 million were killed. With aid agencies battling to cope with the scale of the crisis, Oxfam said it was morally indefensible that several countries and donors had failed to contribute generously.
“A crisis of this magnitude must not be allowed to happen again,” said Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “It is in no way inevitable and solutions do exist. The worst affected areas have endured decades of marginalization and economic under-development. If more action had been taken earlier we would not now be at the stage where so many people are facing starvation.”
In the short-term the $800 million black hole in the aid response to the crisis must be filled but governments and donors must also do more in the long-term to address the issues that have made people vulnerable in the first place.
The UK has so far led the way in recently pledging new aid. To fill the funding black hole, other traditional big donors such as the US will need to make comparable, new contributions as over the last couple of weeks the US has only pledged $15 million in new money. In southern Somalia where famine has been declared and where 3 million people are in need of assistance the USG is not responding. While the US has given $57,209,208 in assistance to date to Somalia, most if not all of this assistance has gone to northern and central Somalia.
“The USG should be commended for starting to ramp up its response to the drought in the fall of last year” said Offenheiser. “However, given the urgency of the crisis, the US needs to immediately restart programs in southern Somalia.”
The European response has been surprisingly slow as well, with donors such as Italy and Denmark so far not providing anything new. The French have been strong on words, calling for an Extraordinary G20 meeting on the issue, but have so far failed to back it up with any additional money. Other donors such as Germany and Spain have made initial contributions but these are small and need to be followed up with more resources as soon as possible. Given the scale of the crisis, donors in the rest of the world will also need to pay their share.
While immediate assistance will help people survive, it is not enough—not in the face of repeated drought, which has now become the norm in the region. Governments and the international community need to treat this as a long-term problem as well as an urgent crisis.
As well as chronic neglect, in some areas people’s ability to cope with drought has also been undermined by land policies that restrict access to grazing areas, and by the ongoing conflict in Somalia which has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and exacerbated the refugee crisis which has forced 135,000 people to flee Somalia this year. According to the UN, nearly half the children from southern Somalia seeking safety in Ethiopian refugee camps are arriving malnourished.
Oxfam on the ground
Oxfam is now responding to the crisis by providing life-saving water, sanitation services, food, and cash. The organization aims to reach 3 million people, including 700,000 in Ethiopia, 1.3 million in Kenya, and 500,000 in Somalia, where conflict has increased people’s suffering and malnutrition rates are climbing.
The overall humanitarian requirements for the region this year, according to the UN appeals, are $1.87 billion. These are so far 45 percent funded, leaving a gap of over $1 billion still remaining: gaps of $332 million and $296 million for the Kenya and Somalia UN appeals respectively, and $398 milion for the government-run appeal in Ethiopia.
In the last two weeks there have been new pledges of $205 million, leaving a gap of $800 million still remaining.
The UK has pledged an estimated $145 million in the past two weeks - almost 15 percent of what is needed. While the US has provided $383 million to the drought relief in FY 11, the US has pledged only $15 million in new money in the past two weeks. The EU has pledged around $8 million so far, with more expected in the coming days. Spain has pledged nearly $10 million, Germany around $8.5 million. France has so far not pledged any new money, and Denmark and Italy have said no significant new sums are available.