Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Somalia: U.N. Warns of Looming Food Crisis in Somalia

Nairobi — The United Nations warns that Somalia is at risk of another famine due to drought, rising food prices and the lingering threat posed by al-Shabab militants. The U.N. says a funding shortfall is forcing agencies to scale down humanitarian work when it is needed most.

At a news conference in Nairobi Monday, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Phillippe Lazzarini said the current situation in Somalia has "troubling similarities" with the conditions seen in the country before the famine declared in 2011.

"There is an ongoing conflict, we have the drought, we have access problems, the funding has completely shrunk and the private business does not have the access it should have," he said.

Worsening crisis

Lazzarini said the situation is likely to worsen in the coming months.

"We are looking today at a series of elements that could push Somalia back into a crisis," he said.

The U.N. says some two million Somalis are already dealing with food shortages, and more than 200,000 children are acutely malnourished.

The chief technical adviser for the U.N.'s food security analysis unit for Somalia, Daniel Molla, said those most at risk are displaced people and those living in the areas of Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Bay region - the same populations hit hardest by the last famine.

He said the potential for a food crisis depends largely on the duration of the rains which began this month.

"In the best scenario, the likely outcome will be a below-average harvest. Of course, if the rains don't continue through the end of May and June, the outcome could be much, much worse," he said.

Military operations, an additional challenge

A military offensive to drive the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab out of areas under its control is creating additional challenges.

Lazzarini said the militants are threatening truck drivers and cutting off supply routes to newly seized towns.

"Because of this, I would say, policy of encirclement, the access for the private sector is becoming more difficult today than it used to be before," he said.

The U.N. has requested $933 million to fund humanitarian activities in Somalia this year, but so far has received only 18 percent of that amount.

Lazzarini said the "competing crises" in South Sudan, Central African Republic and Syria have taken some of the attention away from Somalia.

He said the lack of funding is already threatening life-saving operations, including the U.N. children's agency's health program as well as World Food Program operations.

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