Nairobi — The number of hungry people in Somalia will increase this year for the first time since the 2011 famine as drought is starting to bite, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Rainfall was 50 percent below normal levels during the critical March to June 'Gu' rains which Somalis rely on to grow their crops and water their livestock.
"In the coming months, for the first time since the 2011 famine, we will see the number of people in food security crisis and emergency go up again," the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, said in a statement.
"The food crisis in Somalia will deteriorate in the coming months, with drought conditions already observed in parts of the country."
Conditions in Somalia echo those preceding the 2011 famine, in which 260,000 people died, the U.N. said. The famine was caused by drought, conflict and a ban on food aid in territory held by the Islamist militant group, al Shabaab.
"Today, we face a stark reality," Lazzarini said. "The elements that could tip Somalia into an acute crisis now stand before us - drought, continued conflict, restricted flow of commercial goods, increasing malnutrition and surging food prices."
In February, 857,000 Somalis were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The revised figure will be known in mid-August.
RIVERS RUNNING DRY
Water levels in the country's two main rivers, the Juba and Shabelle, are low, the U.N.'s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said on Monday.
"A prolonged dry season is expected before the start of the October-December rains and this is expected to lead to severe water shortages in areas that received little or no rains over the past three months," it said.
The Somali capital, Mogadishu, is one of the worst hit areas.
"I am especially concerned about 350,000 displaced people living in deplorable conditions in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, where acute malnutrition rates and mortality levels have already surpassed emergency thresholds, and where the situation is set to worsen," Lazzarini said.
The U.N. is struggling to attract funding for Somalia, given the numerous crises in the region. It has only received 25 percent of its $933 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia in 2014.
The U.N.'s children's fund (Unicef) recently received $4 million which will allow it to keep 91 health facilities serving three million people in southern Somalia open until the end of the year, spokesman Bismarck Swangin said.
Some 50,000 children are receiving treatment for severe malnutrition, which is fatal without therapeutic feeding, and hundreds of thousands are being screened by community health workers and mobile clinics.
"If this support doesn't continue and we are not able to provide early screening and identify cases that could become malnourished and provide them with therapeutic feeding, by the end of the year we could fall into the situation of having 200,000 children severely malnourished," said Swangin.
Unicef needs $9 million to support local aid agencies with screening and treatment for malnutrition through to the end of 2015, he said.