World Must Act Now To Avert Catastrophe In Horn Of Africa, Says WFP Executive Director

Executive Director Josette Sheeran during the Emergency Ministerial-Level Meeting on the Horn of Africa. FAO headquarters Copyright:©FAO/GIULIO NAPOLITANO 

A hunger crisis engulfing the Horn of Africa could become a wider catastrophe unless immediate action is taken, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran warned delegates an emergency meeting convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

ROME—“The drought has swept the Horn of Africa where more than 11 million people are in need of food assistance,” she said. “We are particularly worried about Somalia right now and it is vital that we reach those at the epicentre of the famine with food assistance.”

Sheeran explained that a "triple threat" of drought, high food prices and conflict risked exacerbating the crisis even further and said that WFP was rapidly scaling up its operations to prevent that from happening.

Hosted by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, the meeting was requested by the French Presidency of the G20. A number of UN agency heads and government officials took part including French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire, Oxfam Chief executive Barbara Stocking and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Kanayo F. Nwanze.

Back from the field

Sheeran came to the meeting directly upon returning from the Horn of Africa where she visited feeding sites in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.  

“Many of the women I met in Somalia and Kenya over the past few days had lost their children and had no one to depend on but the humanitarian agencies on the ground,” she said. “I saw dozens of children who were too far gone and were not going to make it.”

The Executive Director underlined the importance of reaching vulnerable children with nutritionally fortified foods in order to stave off the rampant levels of malnutrition among families fleeing the famine zone in southern Somalia.

Sheeran added, however, that even more people would be facing hunger in the Horn of Africa if it weren't for social safety net and livelihoods programmes set up in other parts of the region. She said the success of these programmes pointed the way towards a long-term solution.

Scaling Up

Sheeran acknowledged the outpouring of support from the international community, noting that WFP had received over US $225 million in pledges in recent weeks. She said that support would be instrumental in allowing WFP to swiftly scale up operations in the Horn of Africa.

Addressing the difficulties of scaling up in an environment as challenging as the one in Somalia, Sheeran said airlifts of fortified food products into Mogadishu would begin this week.  

“In Somalia there are high risks, but we take them because there is nothing more critical than ensuring that children get the food that they need,” she said.

WFP is currently feeding 1.5 million people in Somalia, including thousands fleeing to the war-torn capital of Mogadishu from the famine zone in the south. An estimated 2 million people in need of food assistance are in parts of southern Somalia which are still inaccessible.