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World Food Programme's Executive Director Cindy McCain Remarks at Security Council open debate on Somalia

Photo: WFP/ Photogallery. WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain at the Security Council open debate on Somalia

Mr. President, thank you for inviting me to brief the Security Council on the dire hunger emergency unfolding in Somalia. This is my first time before the Council since joining the World Food Programme, and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to your vital work. 

I went to Somalia just last month, and I saw for myself how conflict and climate change are conspiring to destroy the lives and livelihoods of millions of Somalis. I was horrified and heartbroken by what I witnessed - violence, fear and starvation are the daily reality there.

I spoke with mothers in a camp for internally displaced people in Dolow. The women there told me stories of entire herds of livestock being wiped out in the droughts. Terrorists recruiting children as young as 11. And the dangers they faced every day as they fight to survive.

One woman I met, Halima, told me she had fled 200 kilometers from her home in Garsaal, with her family of ten, to protect her young sons. She said armed groups had been taking boys from their families by force to join their ranks, killing anyone who refused.

For Halima, the violence and instability had been even more devastating than the vicious drought. As she said to me: “Even if you have everything you need, you cannot live in a place with conflict.”

I am here, today, to tell the Council that Halima and her family – and the countless thousands like her – urgently need help and hope.

Somalia was hauled back from the abyss of famine in 2022, because the international community saw the warning signs flashing red and raced to respond. Donors funded an unprecedented humanitarian scale-up.

But now we are in danger of losing the precious gains we have made since those dark days last year.

The violence and instability which scars the country has destroyed much of the infrastructure needed to support food production and distribution.

What hasn’t been wrecked by conflict has been consumed by Somalia’s climate crisis - which its people did not cause. The longest drought on record killed millions of livestock and decimated crops. It has recently given way to disastrous flash floods in the south of the country.

Inevitably, huge numbers of people have been forced from their homes and lands in search of food and safety. Since the start of 2022, conflict has triggered over one million internal displacements. Climate disasters have fueled a further 2.1 million displacements over the past three years.

Continually having to move has left people impoverished, traumatized and hungry.

The latest food security data show that food insecurity is spiraling across Somalia. Over 6.6 million people – one-third of the population – are expected to face crisis or worse levels of hunger. This includes 40,000 people fighting for survival in famine-like conditions.

Even worse, 1.8 million children are expected to suffer acute malnutrition in 2023. 

Mr. President, we need a five-pronged action plan to address the serious and growing emergency in Somalia.

First, I call on all Member States to immediately contribute to the humanitarian response plan for Somalia, which is seriously underfunded.

At WFP, we’re forced to cut back on our life-saving assistance programs, just when they’re needed the most.

By December 2022, we were reaching a record 4.7 million people per month with food assistance - thanks to donors’ efforts to stop famine in its tracks.

But at the end of April, we had to reduce our caseload to 3 million per month. And without an immediate cash injection, we’ll have to cut our distribution lists again in July to just 1.8 million per month.

That’s almost three million women, children and men who will be denied the assistance they desperately need, simply because we do not have the money to feed them.

If we get the funds we need, we will reverse these life-threatening cuts and continue supporting the millions who rely on WFP for survival.

Second, we all need to work together to ensure life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches the people of Somalia. This means ensuring operations are run with maximum efficiency to stretch every donor dollar as far as possible.

WFP has the largest presence of any UN agency in Somalia, with 13 offices across the country. We are working hard - with our donors, partners and the government of Somalia - to ensure our assistance reaches those we know are in greatest need.

Third, food assistance must be matched with investments to rebuild livelihoods, strengthen resilience and support climate adaptation programs. These proven solutions are the only way to finally break the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty which has so many Somalis in its grip.

Fourth, the Council must spearhead efforts to secure unimpeded humanitarian access to all vulnerable communities in Somalia. Too often, civilians living in territories controlled by armed groups are cut off from humanitarian assistance, because access is denied or the safety of aid workers is threatened.

This has to end – too many lives are at stake.

Fifth, and finally, we all have to work together to find political solutions to create stability and peace in Somalia. This is what the exhausted people of Somalia want and need, above all.

WFP is ready to play our full part and help Somalia lay the foundations for long-term food security, and an end to the scourge of hunger.

But peace requires political will and leadership. We look to the Security Council to please provide it for Halima - and all the other people of Somalia.

Thank you.