The UN needs to signal severity and urgency of the crisis to the international donor community.
Oxfam welcomes news that the United Nations plans to declare famine in parts of Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, reflecting the worsening food crisis and the risk of loss of life on a massive scale. There is an estimated $800 million global shortfall in funds needed to stave off a major humanitarian catastrophe in the region, and a UN famine declaration is particularly important to signal the extent and long-term potential of this crisis to international donors and governments.
“There is no time to waste if we are to avoid massive loss of life. A declaration of famine by the UN would be calling the situation as it is. Now the international community must respond appropriately. The world has been slow to recognise the severity of this crisis, but there is no longer any excuse for inaction and we must not stand idly by and watch this tragedy unfold,” said Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director.
Malnutrition rates in the Dolo Ado camps for Somali refugees in Ethiopia have been recorded more than four times the level considered an emergency, and in some areas between 60-90 percent of livestock have already died. Funds for water, sanitation, nutrition and agricultural or livestock responses are particularly low.
In a recent statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the UN Independent Expert on human rights in Somalia said more deaths were recorded amongst Somali children in the feeding centres of Kenyan refugee camps in the first quarter of 2011 than in the whole of 2010.
Severe drought – the driest year in six decades in some parts of the region – has undoubtedly led to the huge scale of the disaster. However this crisis has been caused by people and policies as much as nature. Oxfam said a massive increase in emergency aid is needed now to save lives and protect livelihoods, but that governments and donors must also do more to address the issues that make people vulnerable in the first place.
“A crisis of this magnitude must not be allowed to happen again. It is in no way inevitable and solutions do exist. The worst affected areas have endured decades of marginalisation and economic under-development. If more action had been taken earlier we would not now be at the stage where so many people are dying,” said Coates.
“Besides saving lives today we need to make sure people can have a future - by tackling poverty, investing in ways to help people feed themselves, and by building up their ability to withstand the shocks of the future,” Coates said.