Somalia rains failing, hunger coming, say groups

NAIROBI, Kenya — Weak and erratic rains, military conflict and little funding from the international community could lead to mass hunger in Somalia, aid groups warned on Wednesday.

The U.N.’s food and security unit says 51,000 children are severely malnourished and face a high risk of death. The group warned that the food situation is likely to worsen in coming months.

“We’re very concerned that at the minute there are so many indicators out there that Somalia is in trouble,” said Ed Pomfret of the aid group Oxfam.

Somalia has long been in trouble, and that’s part of the problem, more than 20 groups said in a coordinated statement.

Crises in Syria, South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic have dominated recent headlines. Somalia, Pomfret noted, has long been known for a quartet of misery: “Pirates, terrorism, hunger and death.” But, the groups said, those are not reasons to neglect Somalis in need.

The U.N. this year asked for $933 million for 2014 aid operations. As of this week, only 12 percent of that request has needed, leaving a gap of $822 million.

The aid appeal is made with the specter of Somalia’s 2011 famine, when an estimated 260,000 people died, fresh in memories. Aid groups, the U.N. and donor governments acknowledge that they did not respond to warning signs in time.

“It seems another drought is looming,” Abdullahi Abdulle, a farmer in Bulo-Burte in Somalia’s Hiran region, said by phone. “We had some rains but it’s not enough to grow crops, and last year it was the same. Help is needed.”

Erratic seasonal rains will likely lead to below average harvests in July and August, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last month. The early warning should now lead to early action, said Andrew Lanyon of the aid group Somrep.

Many farmers who recently planted crops in the expectation of rain have seen their crops wilt. Pastoralists have also been seen slaughtering small calves in order to reserve resources for older cattle, said Bashir Mohamed Hashi, the program director of the Wajir South Development Association.

“It’s a sign of distress,” he said. Other families are selling off household items to buy food, he said.

Adding to the crisis are decisions by banks in the U.S. and U.K. making it harder for the Somali diaspora to send money back to families in Somalia. Somalis living overseas send $1.3 billion to Somalia ever year, a monetary lifeline for an estimated 40 percent of the population, according to estimates from aid groups.

“If remittances stop, families are unable to access food, and their coping strategies have been exhausted. These are the households facing malnutrition,” said Ibrahim Ali Hussein of the aid group Adeso.

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