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Severe drought in Somalia endangers 300,000 hungry children

by Chrispinus Omar NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The worsening drought in Somalia has put the lives of 300,000 children at risk of death and starvation as the country confronts one of its worst droughts since 2011, a global aid agency said on Friday.

Simon Nyabwengi, National Director of World Vision International-Somalia Programme, told Xinhua that the drought situation is worsened by the lack of funding to address a growing humanitarian catastrophe.

"Failure of two consecutive rainy seasons, Gu (short) and Deyr (long) has brought severe drought to Somalia since 2015.

"The continuous failure of rain throughout 2016 has made the situation even worse," Nyabwengi said.

He said the drought which has hit large parts of Somalia has caused a critical shortage of water, forcing children, women and men to walk long distances in search of drinking water, mostly from contaminated sources.

The consumption of the contaminated water has been attributed to an outbreak of cholera and the Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD).

At least 875 people were reported to have been affected by the outbreak which has claimed the lives of 66 people in Southern Somalia’s Jubbaland State.

The World Vision official said the drought has particularly taken a heavy toll on children.

The children mostly lack access to key sources of nutritious food, such as milk because of the ongoing drought.

This has left the children more vulnerable to starvation and death.

Somalia’s efforts to attract the attention of international donors to its drought have not gained momentum.

According to World Vision, only 20 percent of Somalia’s required emergency funding has been received, leaving millions of people at the risk of famine.

Somalia humanitarian operational plan is less than 20 percent funded.

Approximately 825 million U.S. dollars is required to reach 5.5 million Somalis facing possible famine by June.

Nyabwengi said urgent action at this stage has a high chance of saving over 300,000 children who are acutely malnourished as well as over 6 million people facing possible starvation.

The charity said the drought has caused several disruptions, including new population movement trends.

More people are moving from the regions in Madug, Nugal and Puntland towards Bari, near the Red Sea, in search of pasture.

"The current movements have been seen more in the Southern and Central Somalia.

"People are moving from villages to urban centres where they assume help would be available," Nyabwengi told Xinhua.

The drought-related distress migration from rural areas to towns is widespread.

"At least 250,000 people have been internally displaced due to drought since November 2016, UN figures show.

Somalia is staring at a health crisis.

A cholera outbreak is spreading at a rapid pace and leading to deaths and disease in a majority of regions.

There is a sharp increase in cases of cholera in 12 of 18 regions, in particular in Bay and Bakool regions, World Vision International said.

The drought has resulted from successive poor rainfall, which wiped out crops and killed livestock.

The severe drought has made local communities more volunerable.

Most have been forced to sell their assets and borrow food and money to survive.

Nyabwengi said access to sufficient safe drinking water has become a challenge for drought affected communities.

"The extreme lack of access to water is a key driver of the crisis in arid areas," the World Vision official said.

From January to March, World Vision said it has assisted a total of 136,278 drought-affected.


UN and partners warn 108 million people face severe food insecurity worldwide

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- Some 108 million people worldwide were severely food insecure in 2016, a dramatic increase compared with 80 million in 2015, according to a UN-backed report on food crises released Friday.

"The cost in human and resource terms only increases if we let situations deteriorate," said UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, in a news release on the Global Report on Food Crises 2017.

"We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure," he added.

Civil conflict is the driving factor in nine of the 10 worst humanitarian crises, underscoring the strong linkage between peace and food security, said the report.

"Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever greater instability and insecurity. What is a food security challenge today becomes tomorrow’s security challenge," said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

"It is a race against time - the world must act now to save the lives and livelihoods of the millions at the brink of starvation."

This year, the demand for humanitarian and resilience building assistance will further escalate as four countries are at risk of famine: South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria.

Other countries that require massive levels of assistance because of widespread food insecurity are Iraq, Syria (including refugees in neighboring countries) Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In the absence of immediate and substantive action, the food security situation in these countries will continue to worsen in coming months, according to the report.


UNICEF warns of displacement and insecurity in Somalia as drought escalates

MOGADISHU Somalia (Xinhua) -- The escalating drought crisis in Somalia that has affected half of the country’s population could worsen conflicts, displacement of populations and terrorism, a UN official said.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Chief of Field Office in Central South Somalia Eltayeb Adam told Xinhua in a recent interview that the current drought cycle in Somalia has displaced rural communities that are flocking to towns in search of basic necessities like food and water.

"We are expecting the number of displaced people in Somalia to increase as the drought intensifies in many parts of the country.

"Children will drop out of school and could be recruited by armed groups," said Adam.

The Horn of Africa nation is grappling with a biting drought that could develop into a catastrophe unless the international community hastens provision of life saving interventions like food aid, clean water and medicine to avert deaths.

Adam noted that massive crop failure and drying of water points have aggravated hunger, malnutrition and spread of diarrhea diseases.

The UNICEF official warned that a combination of hunger, malnutrition and disease outbreaks will undermine the resilience of Somalia’s political, social and economic structures.

He singled out child labor and gender based violence among social ills that will worsen in the current drought cycle.

"Some parents are asking children to come out of school and engage in economic activities. So we expect increase in child labor," said Adam.

He revealed that the Baidoa region alone is hosting 60,000 displaced persons as drought escalates.

UNICEF has rallied the international community to increase support for life saving interventions in Somalia and avert a looming humanitarian crisis.

Adam said that food aid, supply of clean drinking water and medicine are urgently required to prevent deaths.

He disclosed that UNICEF and partners have prioritized investments in strategic areas like vocational training for children affected by drought to rescue them from the snare of radicalization.

"We are doing a lot of work in terms of awareness raising with different stakeholders to stop recruitment of children by armed groups," said Adam.

"We provide psychosocial support, vocational skills like masonry, carpentry to children rescued from armed groups and re-integrate them in the society," he added.

He emphasized that Somalia and bilateral partners must invest in long-term drought resilience interventions in order to sustain political stability, economic growth and social cohesion in the Horn of African state.

UN says drought displaces 444,000 Somalis in four months

MOGADISHU Somalia (Xinhua) -- Severe drought which is ravaging Somalia has displaced more than 444,000 people from their homes since November 2016, the UN humanitarian agency said on Friday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that the risk of famine in 2017 remains severe as drought conditions continue to worsen.

"Should the April to June rainy season perform poorly, purchasing power will decline to levels seen in 2010/11, and should humanitarian assistance be unable to reach populations in need, famine remains a strong possibility," OCHA warned in its latest report.

OCHA said some of the displaced people are forced to trek long distances because they cannot afford transportation costs.

It said many of the displaced are moving into existing Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlements while others have set up new settlements in towns.

"Some 4,100 people have crossed over to Dolo Ado camp in Ethiopia since January 2017.

The majority of new arrivals are from Bay, Gedo and Middle Juba," it said.

The UN relief agency said the developments in northern regions of the country are expected to be slightly favourable but a significant decline will likely be experienced in southern and central Somalia and may be only marginally better than 2011 levels.

It said the situation in rural areas, some of which are inaccessible to humanitarian partners, is particularly critical.

"The depletion of water sources has forced communities to rely on private water vendors at prices many can barely afford.

Conditions in early 2017 are comparable to early 2011," OCHA said.

Horn of African states pledge investments in drought resilience programs

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Countries in the Greater Horn of Africa region on Friday renewed their commitment to scaling up investments in drought resilience programs in order to cushion vulnerable population from an escalating food and water insecurity.

Senior policymakers and experts from Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) attending a forum in Nairobi said targeted investments in early warning, public awareness and climate resilient agricultural systems is key to containing endemic hunger, malnutrition and water stress blighting the region.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Planning and Devolution Mwangi Kiunjuri said improved weather forecast technology, ecosystems regeneration and public awareness are key to minimize the impact of recurrent droughts in Greater Horn of Africa region.

"Our region is going through a major drought that poses serious threat to livelihoods and economic development.

"It is critical for countries to invest in farming systems and infrastructure that are resilient to droughts that are expected to occur frequently due to climate change," Kiunjuri said.

The UN contends that an estimated 20 million people are affected by drought in the East and Horn of Africa region owing to suppressed rains in the previous seasons.

Kiunjuri noted that compared to 2011, the current drought in the region is unprecedented in terms of intensity and geographical reach while timely interventions have averted deaths.

"The impacts of the current drought have not been so severe when compared to the one in 2011 thanks to better preparedness and response from individual countries and humanitarian agencies," said Kiunjuri.

He urged governments in the region and their bilateral partners to invest in long-term drought resilience measures like improved crop and animal husbandry as well as sound ecosystems management.

"We need to plan and budget for worst case scenarios, expand social safety net programs and establish drought recovery fund to cater for the most vulnerable," Kiunjuri said.

He revealed that Kenya’s emergency drought response fund set up by the national government recently has strengthened lifesaving interventions earmarked for an estimated 3 million people affected by the phenomenon in 23 counties.

Countries in the Greater Horn of African region are exploring innovative financing mechanisms to enhance their response to frequent drought cycles linked to climate change.

The Executive Secretary of IGAD Mahboub Maalim said political goodwill and improved cross-border information sharing will strengthen drought resilience in the region.

"We are not yet out of the woods and should brace for severe droughts in every two-year cycle.

The priority should be rapid investment in resilience programs," said Maalim.

Unied Nations urges new Somalia cabinet to tackle challenges

MOGADISHU Somalia (Xinhua) -- The UN envoy in Somalia on Friday lauded the parliamentary approval of the new cabinet and called on ministers to move swiftly to tackle myriad challenges facing the Horn of Africa nation.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia Michael Keating said the new cabinet contains a healthy mix of experienced leaders and relative newcomers to the political stage which is ready to get into action.

"The parliamentary approval was a bright green light.

"The challenges ahead, including drought, insecurity and corruption, are enormous," Keating said in a statement issued in Mogadishu.

The newly installed 27 cabinet ministers which include six women, the largest number of female ministers ever to be named to a federal government cabinet, was approved by Parliament on Wednesday.

Keating said the number of women represented another positive step towards empowering Somali women in the political affairs of their country.

Some 24 percent of the seats in Somalia’s tenth parliament were occupied by women during the recently concluded electoral process.

The UN envoy also noted with approval the Federal Government’s blueprint spelled out by Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire just prior to the parliamentary vote on the cabinet.

Khaire had underlined the need to eradicate poverty, build up Somalia’s security services in order to eliminate the scourge of terrorism, and expedite the constitutional review process that will lay the foundations for the holding of one-person, one-vote elections in 2020.

Keating said the UN will work with Somalia’s international partners to support the government’s efforts to deliver tangible outcomes on these priorities.

"The UN and international partners look forward to working closely and fruitfully with the president, the PM and the new cabinet as they tackle the many political, economic, security and humanitarian tasks facing Somalia today," Keating said.


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