Eleven schoolchildren killed in airstrike in Myanmar (UNICEF)

NEW YORK CITY: Just a few months ago, Somalia was promised a new era. After a peaceful vote and an equally peaceful transfer of power, many had hoped that a line had been drawn after decades of clan divisions, factional politics, heightened tensions between Mogadishu and the regions and a lingering extremist presence.

In recent years, Somalia has also recorded encouraging economic growth, further raising the hopes of the international community. Until a perfect storm, consisting of the coronavirus pandemic, a locust infestation and flooding, hit the country, reversing the gains.

A new president, whose election capped a period of hope that saw the drafting of a new interim constitution, the establishment of a federal government and the subsequent formation of five new federal member states, has promised to focus on national reconciliation and further political and financial reforms.

James Swan, the UN special representative in Somalia, told the Security Council that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s presidency offered a “long-awaited opportunity to advance urgent national priorities”.

Yet it is not because of this progress that Somalia should be the focus of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly this year. Once again, the country finds itself facing an alarming state of emergency resulting from multiple overlapping crises.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has predicted that the Horn of Africa is set to face a fifth consecutive failed rainy season during the months of October to December. Somalia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and is ill-equipped to deal with this drought, the worst it has seen in 40 years.

There is no end in sight, many say. Five years of drought have depleted the country’s water levels, resulting in poor harvests, with agricultural production falling 70% below average. More than 3 million head of cattle perished. The animals that remained are now emaciated.

And getting help to those in need remains a huge challenge. Some areas are difficult to access due to poor road infrastructure. Others are under the control of Al-Shabab, an intransigent and unpopular group linked to Al-Qaeda.

A mother gives water to her child in a camp for displaced people in Baidoa, Somalia. Hungry people are heading to Baidoa from rural areas in southern Somalia, one of the regions hardest hit by the drought. (AFP)

A deadly al-Shabab insurgency against the federal government led to attacks on humanitarian aid convoys. In a vicious circle, the scarcity exacerbated by Al-Shabab in turn makes more young Somalis vulnerable to recruitment.

Then came the war in Ukraine, the repercussions of which were deeply felt in the Horn of Africa. The resulting spike in world grain prices has driven millions of Somalis to leave their homes and seek food, taking starving and malnourished children along the way.

However, only those who are physically able to leave have left. As for the most vulnerable, the children, the new Somali generation, they are perishing.

“Food insecurity is a global problem,” Abdirahman Abdishakur, the Somali president’s special envoy for drought response, told Arab News.

“The whole world has been affected by disruptions to global grain, fertilizer and fuel supply chains resulting from the conflict in Ukraine. Just like the rest of the world, Somalia has also been affected.

“The difference for Somalia is that this crisis comes on top of many others that the country has been reeling from for decades.”

UN reports indicate that some communities, especially agro-pastoral populations in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts and displaced people from Baidoa town in Bay region, will experience famine from October if the aid is not immediately increased.

Abdishakur is in New York lobbying and urging donors, the international community and the Somali diaspora to support the drought response “before it is too late”.

Various United Nations agencies, including children’s fund UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, have repeatedly warned that the emergency shows no signs of letting up. .

In a statement, the FAO said that “without action, famine will occur in the coming weeks”, adding that drought-related deaths had already occurred and the toll could be much higher in difficult rural areas. of access, compared to the number recorded in the camps for displaced families.

During the 2011 famine, 340,000 Somali children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder in Geneva, Switzerland. “Today it’s 513,000. It’s an unresolved nightmare that we haven’t seen in this century.

Abdirahman Abdishakur, the Somali president’s special envoy, has called for an immediate global response to the country’s food crisis. (Provided)

According to the FAO, around 6.7 million people in Somalia are likely to experience high levels of acute food insecurity between October and December this year, including more than 300,000 who have been left “empty-handed” by the triple emergency of the countries and which should fall into famine.

Abdishakur said, “Needs have intensified and funds remain below what is needed. The window for the international community is literally now. If the world does not increase its aid, famine could be here as early as October.

Although such dire predictions have thrown Somalia into the limelight, famine projections were actually made in March.

“Many governments increased their funding during the drought, and we are very grateful to them. However, the need for adequate levels of funding to contain the initial emergency was not met, allowing the situation to escalate into the crisis we are experiencing today,” he added.

Today, Abdishakur calls for a more aggressive humanitarian response to the crisis to save as many lives as possible.

“The very gravity of the situation demands a more aggressive, innovative and tangible response from the international community,” he said. And he called on the international community to “come together in the spirit of humanitarian diplomacy” and increase its contributions “before it is too late”.

“No one should starve in 2022. In this world of staggering wealth, skills and knowledge, there should be enough support for everyone,” he added.

A child sleeps in a makeshift tent at Muuri camp in Baidoa, one of 500 camps for displaced people. (AFP)

This is not the first or even the tenth time that an emergency appeal has been issued for Somalia to donor countries, and Abdishakur noted that it would not be the last if the same approach continued to be taken every year. by the Somali government or the international community.

He said: “I don’t want to knock on doors in five years or ever. About $1 billion is spent each year to help our country, but the needs continue to grow. Humanitarian support is vital during a crisis, but it cannot be a permanent solution.

Somalis are aware of the progress they had begun to experience, but now fear that their country’s full potential is not being realized.

According to experts, if this potential had been utilized, Somalia could have contributed to food security and sustainable energy production in the Horn of Africa and globally.

As Presidential Envoy for Drought Response, Abdishakur advocates a new way of working aimed at ending the cycle of hunger and suffering that focuses on long-term adaptation and climate change mitigation .

Along with the urgent funds needed to save lives, he called for investments focused on addressing food insecurity, promoting livelihoods and building infrastructure, especially roads.

He said that between 20 and 40 percent of agricultural produce in Somalia has been lost in transport due to poor road conditions.

QUICKDO

* A famine is an acute episode of extreme lack of food characterized by starvation, widespread death, destitution and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition.

“Somalia needs partnerships that enable its people to prosper by continuing to live their traditional way of life with additional climate adaptation and mitigation practices,” Abdishakur said.

“Somalia has resources. We have minerals, rivers, wind and natural gas. We have the longest coastline in Africa. We have a large agro-pastoral population, living off vast pastures and exporting livestock to world markets when drought does not burn their land.

“To emerge from recurrent crises, we need the international community to understand the importance of strengthening the resilience of our population in the face of climatic, economic and security shocks.

“In addition to urgently saving lives, international engagement in Somalia must support livelihoods, develop vital modern infrastructure such as roads and irrigation canals, and help families adapt to a new climatic reality.

Looking to the future, Abdishakur said, “We know our government still has a long way to go, but we are committed to ending this crisis and stopping the cycle, including improving the way we operate, our transparency and our responsibility.

“Our call on the international community, and any group with the relevant expertise and resources, is to work with our government to urgently save lives today and make sustainable investments in Somalia tomorrow.”

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