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Famine Declared in Somalia – What Does it Really Mean?

Map of Africa highlighting Somalia where the Famine has been declaredThe United Nations (UN) has officially declared the dire situation in parts of southern Somalia, a famine. And warns that without immediate and effective humanitarian intervention, famine could quickly spread throughout the country – taking thousands of lives.

Of course accessibility to food – especially nutritious food – is critical. But famine and acute malnutrition need much more complex solutions. The current crisis in East Africa – especially taking into account the complexities of Somalia - will require a multi-faceted and long-term intervention. Not just food drops.

“The world produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child on earth. Hunger and malnutrition therefore are not due to lack of food alone, but are also the consequences of poverty, inequality and misplaced priorities.” – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Kul C. Gautam

What is Famine?  ▼

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Reference Table (the standard used by the UN), famine occurs when the first three of the following conditions occur:

  • 20 percent of population has fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day
  • 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished
  • Two deaths per 10,000 people, or four deaths per 10,000 children per day
  • Pandemic illness
  • Access to less than four liters of water per day
  • Large-scale displacement
  • Civil strife
  • Complete loss of assets and source of income
What is Malnutrition?   ▼

Malnutrition – the state of being poorly nourished – is not merely a result of too little food, but of a combination of factors: insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, frequent infections or disease, poor care and feeding practices, inadequate health services and unsafe water and sanitation. (UNICEF)

Malnutrition is a major health problem, especially in developing countries. Water supply, sanitation and hygiene, given their direct impact on infectious disease, especially diarrhea, are important for preventing malnutrition. Both malnutrition and inadequate water supply and sanitation are linked to poverty. The impact of repeated or persistent diarrhea on nutrition-related poverty and the effect of malnutrition on susceptibility to infectious diarrhea are reinforcing elements of the same vicious circle, especially amongst children in developing countries. (World Health Organization)

Why is there a famine in Somalia?  ▼

Wracked with conflict for more than two decades, Somalia does not have a stable government or military to keep the peace, creating an environment where civilians are exposed to violence, economic insecurity and a complete lack of basic services. What’s more, humanitarian agencies – until recently –have had little to no access to reach vulnerable populations within Somalia. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have already sought refuge in neighboring countries including Kenya and Ethiopia in search of safety and basic resources.

Due to consecutive, dry rainy seasons, the worst drought in 60 years has exacerbated this existing crisis and is leading a dramatic increase in Somalis who require immediate humanitarian relief. Due to food insecurity, crop failure, rising food prices and ongoing conflict, many Somalis are enduring what has now been declared a famine by the UN and require urgent assistance.

What is International Medical Corps doing to respond?  ▼

As famine and malnutrition require a multi-faceted approach, International Medical Corps is working throughout East Africa to implement and/or expand nutrition, water/sanitation/hygiene, health care (including reproductive health) and gender-based violence and protection services.

Near Dolo Ado in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, International Medical Corps is working with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs to provide immediate relief for drought-affected Somalis seeking asylum and basic resources in refugee camps including Boqolmayo, Melkadida, Kobe and Halewen. Having worked in the camps since 2009, International Medical Corps is well-placed to immediately mobilize our local resources and community network to effectively deliver nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, mental health and reproductive health services to the most vulnerable.

As more than 45 percent of new arrivals at the camps are reported to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition, International Medical Corps is implementing supplementary feeding points throughout the camps as well as targeted nutrition services for infants and young children. As overcrowded camp conditions have “increased the risk of the spread of infectious diseases like polio, cholera and measles” according to the World Health Organization, International Medical Corps is also working with local health authorities to safeguard sanitation and hygiene conditions. We will construct additional latrines and bathing areas and disseminate hygiene education amongst new arrivals to thwart the spread of infectious disease. In addition, International Medical Corps will continue to provide gender-based violence as well as mental health and reproductive health services including the provision of healthcare for pregnant women.

A Somali girl draws water from a well constructed by International Medical Corps International Medical Corps has been operating in Somalia since 1991, when we became the first American non-governmental organization to arrive in the war-torn Somali capital of Mogadishu after the overthrow of President Siad Barre. As the number of Somalis in need of emergency humanitarian assistance has increased by 50 percent since April 2011, International Medical Corps is preparing to address nutrition and water/sanitation/hygiene needs in Central Somalia and is already addressing nutrition needs in Somaliland.

Our local teams will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to meet humanitarian needs throughout Ethiopia including in East and West Hararghe where we are implementing drought-related interventions. In Kenya, where the government has declared the drought a national disaster, we are currently expanding our existing nutrition services in three areas hard-hit by the drought: Samburu, Tana River and Isiolo.

How can I help?  ▼

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