Ten FAQ for famine in southern Somalia

The drought in “Horn of Africa” still not subsides. Over half a million severely malnourished children are at imminent risk of dying. Worse still, famine of the century has been declared in the southern part of Somalia where more than 4 in every 10,000 children die every day. UNICEF has called for urgent increased donor support to scale up life-saving interventions for children and women in the Horn of Africa. See below to know more about the situation of this famine of the century in southern Somalia.

Q1: How is ‘famine’ defined?

There are various definitions of famine. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), evidence of 3 specific outcomes is required for a famine to be declared: (1) at least 20% of households face extreme food shortages with limited ability to cope; (2) the prevalence of global acute malnutrition must exceed 30% and (3) crude death rates must exceed 2/10,000 per day.

Q2: Why is the current situation in southern Somalia being classified as a ‘famine’?
The conditions in both Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool regions within southern Somalia are classified as famine, based on evidence that food access, nutrition and mortality outcomes surpassing the 3 required famine thresholds. United Nations declared a famine in these 2 regions on 20 July 2011. Other indicators of a very serious situation include large scale displacement and disease outbreaks.

Famine has not yet declared in other regions, but a severe regional food security crisis and populations in need of lifesaving assistance have already been found in southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya.

Q3: How does this situation compared with previous famines?
Current mortality rates and levels of malnutrition are comparable to or exceed those reported during recent crises in Niger (2005), Ethiopia (2001), Sudan (1998) and Somalia (1992). Given the combination of severity and geographic scope this is the most severe food security crisis in Africa since the 1991/92 Somalia famine. Estimates indicate that tens of thousands of excess deaths have occurred in the past 3 months.

Q4: Is it possible that other areas in Somalia will experience famine conditions in the future?
Yes. As of July 2011 famine conditions exist only in 2 regions, but unless immediate large scale humanitarian interventions are carried out, all regions in southern Somalia are likely to fall into a famine over the coming 1-2 months given current levels of mortality and malnutrition.

Q5: How many are in need and where?
It is estimated that the number of people in crisis is currently 3.7 million nationwide and 3.2 million of them are in urgent need of lifesaving assistance, 2.8 million in the southern regions (63% of the 4.5 million residents in southern regions).To meet the emergency needs, an immediate, massive, multisectoral, humanitarian operation is required in order to save tens of thousands of lives.

Q6: What are the prospects for crops, food prices and pasture respectively in Somalia over the coming 6 months?

Crops: It is estimated that crop production in August will be at best 50% of the 5-year average, although major cereal harvests in the East Africa region are currently forecast to be near-normal.

Food prices: While imports of rice have increased significantly in the past months, trade restrictions still exist and local cereal prices are likely to increase further through December 2011 due to reduced harvests. The price of imported red rice, which is still above the prices of other cereals, has stayed relatively stable over the past 2 years, which will probably impose a ceiling price on the prices of red sorghum and white maize.

Pasture: Pasture availability is already significantly below-average and is expected to deteriorate further, indicating that the coming dry season will be especially difficult for pastoral households.

Q7: How long will needs require?
Given that many households have already lost most if not all of their productive assets, it is very likely that needs for outside assistance will last well into next year, and perhaps even beyond. Immediate and long-term needs will be different during this period. Emergency life saving assistance is needed urgently, but rebuilding and restoring livelihoods will most probably take much longer.

Q8: How does conflict affect food security?
Conflict can reduce both availability and access to food. Production may decline as a result of displacement, and civil insecurity and trade disruptions can interrupt food availability and access to basic services (e.g., education and health).

Q9: How much funding is needed to address the famine?
We estimate that at least HK$2.34 billion (US$ 300 million) will be needed to support the emergency relief in 2011 for the famine, which will be spreading in the next 2 month. This is only a rough estimate, which will probably increase soon, as the number of people in need rapidly rises.

Despite significant contributions from many governments, organisations and private donors through our National Committees, UNICEF still faces a shortfall of HK$1.56 billion (US$200 million).

Q10: What is the action of Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF?
Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF(HKCU) immediately appealed to the general public for support when the crisis started, and allocated HK$1 million from HKCU’s emergency relief fund in aid of the relief operation on 27 July, 2011. We also keep our supporters, media and the general Hong Kong public informed by frequently updating our website with latest information about the Horn of Africa crisis.