The United Nations and aid groups warned of a possible looming catastrophe as a severe drought plunged millions of Somalis into crisis after rains failed for several consecutive seasons in the Horn of Africa nation.
The drought has increased the number of malnourished children in some regions, displaced thousands of people and killed thousands of animals. Officials in a central Somali region said 18 people died of drought-related effects.
“The situation is dire. It is an added vulnerability to an already extremely vulnerable people,” the UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said after touring camps for displaced people in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
The drought is the latest in a long line of problems for Somalia, which has been mired in conflict since 1991, when warlords toppled the country’s last central government, then turned on each other.
According to the UN, the malnutrition rate among children has jumped to 30% in Somalia’s southern Juba region, a figure that is double the emergency threshold. Food prices have soared 80% in some regions.
Many drought-affected families are fleeing their homes in search of food. In the Galmudug region of central Somalia, officials said they had not seen such drought conditions since 1974.
Omar Mohamoud, a local government official, said the drought had killed 18 people and displaced thousands. He said his community has seen about 70% of its sheep and goats, 50% of its cattle and 30% of its camels die in the last three years.
“We are appealing to the international community to respond to the crisis and provide the people with water, food, medicine and shelter,” said Mr Mohamoud. “If the international community does not respond to the crisis urgently, a catastrophe of huge proportions is staring us right in the eyes.”
Oxfam said Somalia’s current drought could be as serious as one in the early 1990s, when thousands of people died.
The UN has released £2.8 million from its emergency fund to respond to the drought and is likely to release more in the coming weeks, said Mark Bowden, the world body’s Somalia humanitarian co-ordinator. This figure is separate from the £329 million sought by the UN for this year to finance its aid projects in Somalia.