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Somalia: We cannot wait for famine to be declared; we must act now – somalia




Interview with Rein Paulsen, Director of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience at FAO


Rome – More than 900,000 people in Somalia, mostly living in rural areas, have moved to IDP camps since January 2021 due to drought and lack of livelihoods.

There is a reasonable chance of famine in eight areas by September 2022 if crop and livestock failure is widespread, prices of key commodities continue to rise and humanitarian aid fails to reach the most vulnerable.

FAO Somalia is urgently seeking $131.4 million to assist 882,000 people in 55 districts with immediate life-saving and livelihood support. These famine prevention efforts in Somalia are only 46 percent funded and are part of the wider FAO Horn of Africa Drought Response Plan, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Funding levels remain low in all sectors, with Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan 2022 only 43 percent funded as of August 4, 2022.

Rein Paulsen is Director of FAO Office of Emergencies and Resiliency. As a member of the Emergency Directors Group, an inter-agency team of senior emergency directors from several UN agencies and NGOs, he recently visited Somalia where people may experience famine by next month.

How is the drought affecting the population?

We are deeply concerned about the drought situation and how vulnerable families are being affected. I just spoke to a family of seven. They came here [to a displaced persons camp] seven months ago. They came here because their livestock had died. They came here because they had no means to survive in rural areas. The place where they lived was more than 100 kilometers away.

How urgent is the need to act?

The response to hunger begins in rural areas, at the heart of the crisis where food-producing communities are hardest hit by drought. We cannot wait for famine to be declared; we must act now to protect livelihoods and lives.

Why is intervention in agriculture important?

With agriculture accounting for up to 60 percent of Somalia’s gross domestic product, 80 percent of its employment and 90 percent of its exports, it is so important that agriculture is properly understood as a frontline humanitarian response . It not only meets needs, but effectively reduces the drivers of those needs. Agriculture needs more attention and more funding to enable timely action in response to agricultural seasons.

Are people in need getting help?

We absolutely must increase our response in rural areas to help vulnerable people where they are. It is more effective. It is more humane. We absolutely must increase our efforts collectively. But I have to say that the level of help that is being offered now is not enough. So we need multi-sectoral responses, supporting livelihoods. But to be able to do that, we need a lot more donor funding to come in.

How do you plan to help the affected people?

Our focus is very much on livelihoods. It is about providing cash to allow people to buy food to survive. It is about keeping their animals alive with emergency food, with veterinary treatments, with water supplies for the animals in a drought context, which is extremely important. Despite the challenges of insufficient and poorly distributed rainfall, we must also provide assistance to farmers to plant where possible. This is especially true in riverine areas where, despite rainfall challenges, irrigated cropping is feasible. These are the practical types of activities required.

Is the necessary funding being provided?

We have urgent problems with adequate funding and attention given the scale of the crisis. Since April last year and the failure of successive rains, we have been sounding the alarm for pre-emptive action and early response, but it has not happened at the required levels. Vulnerable farmers are forced to move as livestock die and crops fail. Now everyone must mobilize quickly and at scale.


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