19 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, warned today that the food security situation in the Horn of Africa was becoming critical because of the combined effects of drought and rising food prices, as well as conflict in some cases, and he appealed to the international community to immediately provide more funds.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Mr. Holmes said that, although the situation had been building over the course of the year, a new estimate revealed that there were nearly 17 million people –- including 3 million children -- in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and parts of northern Kenya and northern Uganda –- in urgent need of food and other emergency humanitarian assistance.  That number could rise because the effects of drought had been amplified this year by unprecedented food price increases and, in some places, levels of conflict not seen since the 1990s.

“We have the tools, we know what to do.  We simply need more resources if we’re going to be able to do it effectively,” he said.

He estimated that the combined needs for the response in Africa’s Horn until the end of the year totalled $1.4 billion.  Currently, about $716 million was still needed.  Those figures did not include Eritrea, because there was presently no accurate estimate of the cost of the needs there.

The biggest problems were in Ethiopia and Somalia, he said.  In Ethiopia, the number of vulnerable people targeted for emergency support had increased from 2.2 million in April to 4.6 million in June, and had been revised again this week to 6.4 million persons.  In Somalia, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance had increased to nearly 3.2 million people, or 43 per cent of the Somali population.  There had been a partial donor response for those countries earlier this year, but the situation was extremely serious in terms of supplies of food and supplementary feeding for children suffering from acute malnutrition.

There were also medium- and longer-term needs to rebuild the agricultural sectors of some of the countries in the Horn of Africa, and to boost their resilience against successive droughts, he said.  The immediate need, however, was to keep people alive and in reasonable shape so that they could continue to live and develop as they should.

Asked why he did not use the word “famine” when discussing Ethiopia and Somalia, he said he did not think “we’re quite there in either place”.  If the international community continued to provide the kind of response it had provided thus far, then situations from the 1980s and 1990s -- which had represented genuine famines -- could be avoided.  He emphasized that extra resources were needed very quickly in order to avoid reverting to famine situations.

Responding to a question about military blockage, he said there was no doubt that the conflict in Somalia was one reason for the intense suffering.  It was necessary to make sure that there were enough agencies and non-governmental organizations on the ground to monitor the proper distribution of food.

Replying to a question about concern expressed by the Government of Ethiopia that the country was always seen as asking for aid, he said the concerns were legitimate, but that the main point was to reveal the situation as it was.  The important point was that there were more people suffering and that the number might increase further without adequate intervention.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record