20 July 2011
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Somalia Famine by United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator


The United Nations today confirmed the existence of famine in two regions of southern Somalia: southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, and made an urgent appeal for “exceptional efforts” to support Somalis in overcoming that humanitarian crisis, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference. 

Speaking via video conference, Mr. Bowden reported that, across the country where malnutrition rates were currently the highest in the world and peaking at 50 per cent in certain areas in the south, nearly half of the Somali population, or 3.7 million people, were now in crisis, with some 2.8 million in the south.

To expedite the delivery of supplies into the worst-affected areas, he said, the United Nations had begun airlifting urgently needed medical, nutrition and water supplies.

In southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, acute malnutrition rates exceeded 30 per cent, with deaths among children under 5 years old topping 6 per 10,000 a day in some areas.  In the last few months, tens of thousands of Somalis had died — the majority, children — from malnutrition and related causes.

Consecutive droughts had affected the country in the last few years, while the ongoing conflict had made it difficult for agencies to operate and access communities in the south of the country, he explained.  “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” he declared.  “We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need.”

He estimated that $300 million was needed in the next two months to face the famine, and said that, meanwhile, the lack of resources was alarming.  “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas,” he warned.

While United Nations humanitarian agencies had welcomed the recent request by Al-Shabaab for international assistance in southern Somalia, he said, the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 had prevented the United Nations from reaching those who needed food — particularly children.  That, of course, had contributed to the current crisis.

However, despite those challenges, he said, humanitarian agencies were working hard to respond, and in an effort to reach more children with life-saving interventions, the United Nations and its partners had scaled up emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, and immunization efforts to combat malnutrition and reduce disease.

He provided additional details about the most affected areas of Somalia in the south, in particular the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, which hosted an estimated 310,000 acutely malnourished children.  The number of people in crisis throughout the country had increased by over 1 million in the last six months.  “More than ever, Somali people need and deserve our full attention.  At this time of crisis, we must make exceptional efforts to support Somalis wherever they are in need and expect that all parties will do the same,” he urged.

To a question about African support for humanitarian needs in the Horn of Africa, he said the countries affected were providing assistance to their own people but outside of that, African countries had not provided assistance to the United Nations appeal.

Responding to another question on whether it was possible to get the $300 million he felt was needed in the two months, he said it was possible if there was a willingness to provide it.  He cited the strong lead taken by both the United Kingdom and the European Commission in that regard; they had accepted the risks that went with providing that support, based on the urgency of the need.  He added, however, that their support was not enough; it was up to Member States to “step up to the plate at this time”.

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For information media • not an official record