ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today said 11.3 million people are in need of food assistance due to drought in the Horn of Africa, and declared a corporate emergency, elevating the crisis to the highest level of action, and indicating grave concern about the possibility of widespread loss of life.
“WFP with the support of many has been scaling up and acting on the effects of this drought for more than 6 months,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. “Its depth, and spread, coupled with an inability among humanitarian agencies to access all the affected areas, has raised this to a full-blown food and nutrition emergency, requiring rapid scale-up.”
WFP’s announcement followed the declaration, earlier today, by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, that there is famine in the south of the country, in areas where there has been limited humanitarian access.
“WFP welcomes the recent announcement by those controlling access to much of southern Somalia, indicating increased humanitarian access to assist those worst affected by the drought,” Sheeran said. “WFP is ready to negotiate with the drought committees to ensure the proper safety conditions for our staff so that food and supplementary nutrition will reach the most vulnerable – especially children.”
Among the options being considered by WFP are the airlift of high energy biscuits and highly nutritious supplementary foods - for vulnerable children and pregnant or nursing mothers - into strategic locations in southern Somalia, where they would be distributed to the hungry by international and national non-governmental organisations that are active in areas where the food needs of local populations are greatest. Plans to mobilise supplementary food products for children in response to the Horn of Africa crisis could make this the biggest ever operation to deliver these products that are highly effective in treating malnutrition in the first 1000 days of life.
“Operations in Somalia are among the highest risk in the world, and WFP has lost 14 relief workers there since 2008,” Sheeran added. “We will aggressively pursue efforts to mitigate against risk, through robust assessments and monitoring, but I am calling on all sides to stand together in recognising the inevitable risks that will be present in southern Somalia.”
Sheeran, who is in Ethiopia holding high-level meetings with government officials and the African Union, will travel to Somalia and Kenya in the coming days to visit drought-affected areas, review WFP operations, and speak to victims of the drought.
“When I visited Somalia and the Dadaab refugee camp in April this year, I witnessed the beginning of the cycle that has led to this latest crisis in the Horn of Africa,” Sheeran said. “WFP saw this emergency coming and has been building up capacity to respond to the growing numbers of hungry with life-saving food. It is now vital that the coalition of international action – involving the United Nations agencies, governments, non-governmental organisations and regional organisations – quickly receive the generous support and donations required to make a difference.”
WFP and other humanitarian agencies have been unable to work in southern Somalia since early 2010, and this has restricted the UN’s ability to address the nutritional needs of those living in this region – especially children.