African leaders convened a fundraising conference today for famine-wracked Somalia, where tens of thousands of people have already died and 3.2 million are on the brink of starvation, with a top United Nations official warning that the crisis stretches far beyond hunger to issues of health, protection and livelihood.
"The future of an entire generation hangs in the balance," Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the pledging conference hosted by the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"If we do not respond, the consequences will reverberate for years. We will be asked how we stood by and watched a generation die, how we allowed a crisis to become a catastrophe, when we could have stopped it."
She noted that communities had already been shattered and a generation of orphans would bear the scars of hunger for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Migiro stressed the multiple facets of the crisis, including public health, with disease, including cholera and measles, threatening to spread throughout Mogadishu, the capital, and beyond. "We must do everything to ensure that affected communities have enough clean water, medicine and hygiene supplies to stop it spreading further," she said.
"This is also a protection crisis, where women face the threat of rape in overcrowded camps, where orphaned children are lost and scared, with no sense of future, where refugees are being preyed upon by armed gangs and bandits during their long walk to safety."
It is also a crisis of livelihoods, with thousands of households having sold their assets to keep themselves alive. "Pastoralists have lost their livestock: they will only be able to survive future environmental or economic shocks if they can rebuild their resilience," she added.
Ms. Migiro emphasized the urgent need for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in the war-torn and faction-riven country to take up these challenges to assist and deliver food relief and basic services in areas that it controls, and for the international community to fully support the TFG so that it can exercise its responsibilities to protect civilians.
She also highlighted the need to build long-term sustainability and resilience so that future shortages can be averted by taking appropriate agricultural steps to end the cycle of recurring crises.
She called on the TFG to step up its own outreach and reconciliation efforts to build sustainable peace in a country that has not had a functioning central government for past two decades, during which internecine fighting spawned by warlords and Islamic militants has killed countless thousands of people and driven 1.4 million others from their homes.
The TFG, supported by the 6,200-strong UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), recently expanded its control over Mogadishu after Al-Shabaab Islamic insurgents withdrew from nearly all the city.
Earlier this month Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative Augustine Mahiga called for greater international aid to enable the Government to move into the country's south, which is still controlled by Al-Shabaab.
Ms. Migiro noted that while the situation outside Somalia is not expected to reach famine proportions, millions of people are also struggling to survive in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, after the worst drought in decades.
"The suffering is real and widespread and we cannot afford to lose the momentum for action," she said, noting that Kenyans and Ethiopians, even while confronting their own difficulties, are also hosting hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, who have fled conflict and famine and now live in vast camps.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned that efforts to keep farmers and pastoralists on their feet, prevent the crisis from worsening and speed progress toward recovery are not being adequately funded.
Support for activities outlined in FAO's "Road map for Recovery" a $161 million package designed to restore livelihoods and build the resilience of populations in the face of climate and other shocks has so far been insufficient, with only $57.3 million paid up or in the pipeline to date, the agency said in a news release.
It noted that high cereal prices continue in the Horn of Africa, as cereal supply is declining and will not be replenished until the year's end, provided there is adequate rainfall. Livestock conditions continue to deteriorate, and the increasing burden of accumulated debts continues to erode both urban and rural households' ability to purchase food.
"We have the know-how, including frameworks, institutions, technology and human capacities to eradicate famine from the Horn of Africa, but we lack predictable resource flows to achieve that outcome," states a document prepared for the Addis Abba meeting by the AU in collaboration with the three Rome-based UN food agencies FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).