The United Nation says “famine is at the door” in Somalia, with “concrete indications” it will occur later this year in the southern Bay region.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told reporters he was “shocked to my core these past few days” on a visit to Somalia, during which he saw starving babies too weak to cry.
More than 850,000 people are living in the affected areas, with tens of thousands more to arrive in the months to come, UN experts said.
Famine is the extreme lack of food and a significant death rate from outright starvation or malnutrition combined with diseases such as cholera.
Hungry families in Somalia have been staggering for days or weeks through parched terrain in search of assistance. Many bury family members along the way. Even when they reach camps outside urban areas, they find little or no help.
“I couldn’t get out of my head the tiny mounds of ground marking children’s graves,” Rania Dagash, deputy regional director of the UN children’s fun, said last week. “I’m from this region and I’ve never seen it so bad.”
A formal famine declaration might bring desperately needed funding. But “tragically, by the time a famine is declared, it’s already too late”, the UN World Food Programme has said.
When famine was declared in parts of Somalia in 2011, the deaths of a quarter of a million people were well under way.
“This is not a repeat of the 2011 famine. It is much worse,” the UN humanitarian agency said last week.