UN says 7.7 million at risk of starvation in Somalia as drought continues

A Somali woman gestures after filling water cans tied to a donkey at a traditional cistern for harvesting rainwater, called a berkad, made by the Irish charity Concern-Worldwide as the Horn of Africa faces severe drought in Carro-Yaambo, a village 20 miles west of the capital Hargeisa, Somalia [Getty Images]

The areas around the border between Somalia and Kenya have been experiencing severe drought conditions since the middle of this year. Land desertification has extended into the Lower Juba region, having decimated the green pastureland of eastern Kenya and in particular the Somali region of Anfadi (also known as Kenya’s north eastern province).

The drought has already led to the death of a 12-year old child from starvation, and hundreds of livestock have perished, engendering fears of a famine similar to the one which struck the country in 2011, in which 250,000 Somalis died in the southern and central regions of the country.

UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) issued a stark warning at the start of November that the failure of the rainy season in the second half of the year, and the resulting decline in agricultural production signalled a looming humanitarian crisis.

"The drought has already led to the death of a 12-year old child from starvation, and hundreds of livestock have perished, engendering fears of a famine similar to the one which struck the country in 2011"

James Swan, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, said during a humanitarian conference at the UN headquarters in Mogadishu last week that nearly 7.7 million Somalis will be in need of humanitarian aid in 2022.

He called on the international community to abide by its promises to grant financial assistance to Somalia, to help the country confront the wave of drought which is once again sweeping the country.

Livestock dying "in front of our eyes"

Abdi Mahad Adam (50), a cattle herder from Tubli (a town on the Somali border with Kenya), says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication: "I had around 180 cows. Now only 32 remain because of the drought which has killed my cattle in front of me – the land has dried up completely, I've never seen it like this before.

Women in Somalia waiting to fill jerrycans with water at station run by Polish Humanitarian Action in 2017 during a period of drought. Somalia is once again in the grip of severe drought which has caused crops to fail and cattle to die and is causing severe food and water shortages [NurPhoto via Getty]

"I don’t remember the last time we had access to drinkable water. We haven't had enough water for three months".

Mahad Adam adds: "Herders face difficult days ahead in the regions hit by the drought. Those who used to own 500 cattle now only have 80. We need food as well as safe water, and we have no way of bringing water to the animals we have left to keep them alive".

The bodies of dead animals are scattered in the rural areas in the south of the country, with the stench from the decaying corpses permeating the air, while their owners are forced to watch their livestock and livelihoods eradicated before their eyes.

"I don’t remember the last time we had access to drinkable water. We haven’t had enough water for three months"

Ali Ahmad Hassan (73) a tribal elder from Tubli, demands that the Somali government provide emergency support to those affected.

"The inhabitants of the drought-hit regions have no way of surviving the current humanitarian crisis and it is up to the federal and local government actors to start providing food and clean water supplies to the people of these regions". He adds that herders are not in a position to rent trucks to transport livestock to areas where it would be possible for them to get water.

Local efforts

Locals from Tubli have led efforts to start providing modest food packages to dozens of the families most affected by the drought. In addition to this a campaign to provide water was launched nearly a month ago. However, the donations and supplies raised have not been nearly enough to meet the needs of those in all of the areas affected by the drought, which observers predict may last up to six months.

Sheikh Abdulrazak Mahdi, a Tubli local working on the campaign says that the area of Lower Juba affected is huge, and says, "due to this we have mobilised to provide water to affected families and have identified 11 positions in villages and towns in the surrounding areas which can provide containers of water to the Somali families".

He adds that these local efforts have been enabled by donations collected from Tubli residents, alongside those gathered from Somalis living abroad. Mahdi implores the Somali and Arab communities to give aid to those affected by drought and desertification.

Calls for government action

On 10 November the Somali government held a humanitarian conference attended by various ambassadors, international delegations and humanitarian organisations based in the region. The conference aimed to shine a light on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the southern and central regions of the country.


Khadija Diriye, minister of humanitarian affairs & disaster management said at the conference: "The humanitarian situation in the country is deteriorating again and again, and we must act immediately to save lives in the south. 7.7 million people face a crisis of starvation".

Observers blame the lack of government plans to deal with environmental calamities as the main cause of Somalia's repeated crises of drought and hunger in the southern and central regions. They also warn that one side-effect of the repeating humanitarian crises is the spread of slums in the capital Mogadishu and its suburbs due to displacement.

They point out that without providing for the population's basic needs in the south, and finding ways to replenish agricultural lands, these slums will continue to exist and grow for decades to come.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko