Somalia drought kills 110 in just two days, says prime minister

More than half of Somali residents are struggling with the effects of drought, as widespread food shortages threaten millions.

Feisal Omar/Reuters
An internally displaced Somali woman holds her child receiving treatment inside a ward at the Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday.

Somalia is in the midst of a severe drought, and over the weekend the first official numbers related to this emerging crisis were released, with the country’s prime minister announcing 110 people had lost their lives in a single region over a period of 48 hours.

Sitting at the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is just one of four countries currently under threat of famine, alongside Yemen, Nigeria, and South Sudan; In February, the United Nations made the first official declaration of a famine since 2011, specifically in parts of South Sudan.

The situation in Somalia is intensifying, with newly appointed President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declaring the drought a national disaster last Tuesday. The United Nations and various aid organizations have been spearheading fundraising initiatives to combat the food insecurity sweeping through the region.

“It is a difficult situation for the pastoralists and their livestock,” said Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire's office 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.”

Somalia was last hit by severe famine from 2010 to 2012, when some 260,000 people died of starvation. It is currently estimated that around 6.2 million people, more than half the population, are suffering the effects of drought.

The UN humanitarian appeal for the country this year is $864 million, which seeks to provide for 3.9 million people. On Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, launched a separate appeal for $24.6 million to specifically address the needs of 1 million Somalis affected by the drought.

“We named this (2017) drought ‘Odi Kawayn,’ which is Somali for ‘something bigger than the elders,’ ” a drought victim named Halima told IOM. “None of our elders has ever seen a drought as severe as this one.”

The drought comes at a time of other stressors, including population displacement and insecurity, high food prices, and trade disruption. The severe lack of rainfall itself – leading to record low levels of vegetation cover and soil moisture – is being blamed on La Niña, an environmental phenomenon known for inflicting exceptionally dry conditions on the Horn of Africa.

Though the outlook at the moment appears bleak, if the rains of this year’s Gu season (March to May) were to arrive with their usual vigor, it could allow people, crops, and livestock to begin to recover. Aid agencies are making no such assumption, however, and are doing their utmost to seek massive increases in humanitarian assistance.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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