Millions of people face famine in Somalia and South Sudan and the situation is expected to worsen as the drought and violence fuelling the crisis widens senior United Nations officials who have just returned from the area warn.
In New York, John Ging from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the situation in Somalia was “fast moving” with more than 6.2 million people in need of food and water and at risk of cholera and measles.
“My overall impression of the response in Somalia is needs are moving quickly, escalating with response currently keeping pace with those needs. That does not mean we should be complacent it means we have the right team on the ground doing an outstanding job,” said Ging, who led a team including representatives from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to the east African country.
The visit by the so-called emergency directors’ group was meant to ensure co-ordination among all involved and to mobilise support for both countries.
Donors have funded 70% of the $825 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia – “unprecedented,” according to Ging.
The financial support follows the 2011 collective failure to stop an earlier famine in Somalia, the senior UN official said, and is today seen as a strong message from the international community to work with the Somali Government to prevent a re-occurrence.
In addition to humanitarian aid, families are also receiving more cash-for-work as part of a project led by UNDP and partners. UNDP’s Mourad Wahba said the project is part of an effort to help families “take it into their own hands to decide how aid should be spent.”
The scale-up on the funding side in Somalia is in sharp contrast to South Sudan where only about 27% of the $1.6 billion appeal has been met.
“That leaves our operations vulnerable at the scale and needs required,” Ging said.
The scale of needs in South Sudan is bigger – with 7.5 million people needing assistance, roughly half of them displaced in country and as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Additionally, South Sudan is now considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers. Since the latest outbreak of violence in South Sudan, 82 aid workers have been killed – nine in March alone.
The face of the famine remains a woman with her child, according to Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch at UNFPA.
“In both countries, we have more than two hundred thousand pregnant women who are affected. Because of the impact of the drought, men stayed on the farms to tend livestock. Women are the ones walking with children,” she said, underscoring the risk of sexual violence.
In South Sudan, sexual violence against girls and women is particularly grave with both younger children and elderly women attacked.
Manuel Fontaine, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Operations, said more than 200,000 children in Somalia already face severe malnutrition which is expected to worsen as rain stops over the coming months.
He also expressed concern about cholera, noting an increase in cases of 700% from the same period last year in the Horn of Africa nation.