NAIROBI, KENYA, Sept. 7, 2022 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) calls for international action following Monday’s warning from the United Nations (U.N.) that famine will occur in Somalia later this year unless the international community provides more humanitarian support.
According to the U.N., the Somalia response is significantly underfunded, with less than a quarter of needs being met.
“The purpose of a famine declaration is to call the international community into extraordinary action. Unfortunately, by the time famine is declared, it is already too late for many,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’s president & CEO.
“With this warning, there is time to save lives. The international community must meet the immediate needs on the ground while also doing a better job at preventing famine in the first place.
We can address the myriad causes of food insecurity, like conflict and climate change. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, complacency is not an option.”
According to the statement issued by the U.N.’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), parts of Somalia are projected to face famine between October through December in the absence of a significant increase in humanitarian assistance.
It’s estimated about 7.1 million need emergency aid, half of them children. In the meantime, families are taking desperate measures to stay alive, like selling off everything they own or leaving their homes to search for food and water.
The scarcity of resources and rise in costs have led to heightened conflict and instability.
“What we’re seeing on the ground is indescribable,” said Omar Aden, who is based in Mogadishu as the chief of party for CRS in Somalia.
“As a global public health specialist and humanitarian, I’ve worked in many difficult contexts. Yet this seems different.
The sight of camel carcasses strewn across the landscape is ominous. Camels are resilient. They are meant to live for extended periods without water—the last animals to remain standing. If they are unable to survive, what are the risks for families and communities?”
Somalia isn’t the only country dealing with a catastrophe.
CRS has become increasingly alarmed by the growing hunger crisis throughout the region. It’s estimated that across the Horn of Africa, 20.5 million people—more than the entire population of New York state—need urgent assistance to survive.
A historic drought —the worst in 40 years—is a key driver of the regional crisis, as well as a combination of political instability and conflict, the economic effects of COVID-19, and soaring inflation tied to the war in Ukraine.
According to the most recent reports, the drought-stricken parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are bracing for an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season, with significantly below average rainfall expected through the end of the year.
“In the worst areas, there is no greenery, grass or pasture for the animals. When you walk on the land, it crunches under your feet,” said Shaun Ferris, who leads CRS’s global agricultural and markets team. “It feels barren and scary.
Kenya has lost 1.5 million cattle. Ethiopia has lost more than 2 million livestock. Such mass casualty wipes out a community’s assets. This leads to tensions. Without action, global and economic stability could suffer. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.”
CRS has a long history of carrying out humanitarian and development work in the region, with some country programs dating back to the 1960s.
In Somalia, CRS implements multiple programs, including cash assistance programming that helps families buy food and supplies and programming that brings clean water into drought-stricken communities.
CRS also provides feminine hygiene kits for women and girls who are especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Additionally, CRS supports partner health facilities and nutrition centers.
The United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, representing more than half of all humanitarian funding in 2022. Yet more can be done to stem the crisis.
As such, CRS urges Congressional lawmakers to pass the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act while providing additional supplemental funding for the immediate needs.
“Given the enormity of the emergency, no single country can manage it alone, which is why further American leadership is needed to push donor governments into action, starting with the U.N. General Assembly in September,” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’s executive vice president of Mission, Mobilization and Advocacy.
“While we appreciate and acknowledge the generosity of the U.S. government in response to growing humanitarian needs, more action is clearly necessary.
The facts speak for themselves. When famine was declared in Somalia in 2011, an estimated 250,000 people died of hunger-related causes—half of whom were children.
The good news is that if we act now, we can course correct to ensure that what happened in 2011 doesn’t ever happen again.”