Washington — A new analysis of food security in the Horn of Africa reports that the level of acute malnutrition for people in some areas of Somalia exceeds 50 percent. Food insecurity will worsen to become famine in most areas of southern Somalia within four to six weeks, according to an August 24 report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).
With backing from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), FEWS NET keeps watch on the status of food security in more than 30 nations. Using data from trained observers in the region and satellite and scientific data, FEWS NET predicted the onset of famine in the Horn of Africa as much as a year ago. It is considered among the most authoritative sources on current conditions and what's to come.
Drought is widely known to be the cause of the poor harvest and the resulting hunger in the region, but the latest FEWS NET report details just how sparse the season has been this year. The rainy period from April to June, known as the Gu, usually creates conditions for agriculture productivity in the arid region, but not this year.
"Gu 2011 cereal production in southern Somalia is estimated at 37,600 [metric tons]," the report says. "This is the lowest Gu cereal production in the last 17 years and represents only 26 percent of the 1995-2010 post-war average."
The report says poor irrigation infrastructure and high irrigation competition also helped to diminish harvest yields, along with crop pests and diseases.
While Somalia's crop yields were poor this year, the herders had a better year. The report notes average pasture and water conditions, allowing Somalis practicing a pastoral livelihood to follow normal livestock migrations where herds can adequately graze.
A combination of low incomes and high cereal prices has also put food farther out of reach for average Somalis. "Food prices are exorbitantly high for the majority of households," the report says.
FEWS NET monitors about 30 famine-prone countries around the world. It collects data from diverse sources to constantly evaluate levels of food security and issue warnings in the event of dangerous food shortages.
The drought is considered the region's worst in about 60 years. Food shortages are being experienced in neighboring countries beyond Somalia, and malnutrition is thought to be the worst in 20 years, touching an estimated 12.5 million people across the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
It's been estimated that close to $2.5 billion will be needed to address the region's humanitarian crisis, but so far donors have pledged only about $1 billion. Nations of the African Union (AU) came together August 25 in a pledging conference, where additional commitments for $350 million were made. It was the first time the AU had attempted to organize its members for this type of appeal.
While the needs of the moment are great, many are trying to look beyond the current crisis for longer-term solutions to Africa's food security. "We must ensure that we address the root causes and not simply throw money at it and wait for another emergency in a few years," said Jerry Rawlings, special representative of the AU for Somalia.
The United States has pledged to contribute about $580 million for humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa, and as Rawlings suggests, has developed a program called Feed the Future, which aspires to create greater food security in the region with better agricultural skills, techniques and infrastructure development.