• The Epicentre of a Crisis

    09 Aug 2011

    Humanitarian aid workers are working hard to assist the IDPs through the distribution of corn-soya blend to assist the malnourished children as well as the elderly. (Photo: OCHA/Abdi Noor Yussuf)
    Humanitarian aid workers are working hard to assist the IDPs through the distribution of corn-soya blend to assist the malnourished children as well as the elderly. (Photo: OCHA/Abdi Noor Yussuf)

    Almost two million Somalis have left their homes in search of food and tens of thousands have died from hunger.  And the numbers continue to rise.

    I went to Dollow on the Somali side of the Ethiopian border to see for myself what was happening. What I saw and heard was alarming.

    About 150 families a day were arriving and all of them told the same story. They were running out of resources and knew they could not survive much longer. They had walked for three to four weeks, often leaving relatives too weak to follow by the roadside.

    After my trip we began to collate the information and the latest round of surveys was horrifying. In some areas over 50% of children were classified as being acutely malnourished— these are globally unprecedented figures.

    The mortality figures were just as grim with four to five children under five years-old per 10,000 dying each day.

    The declaration of famine was not a decision taken lightly and demonstrates the severity and urgency of the crisis. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was asked to validate the findings.  

    In the next few weeks other areas of southern Somalia will slide into the same deep distress. More will die; more families will move to find help. We estimate that of the 3.7 million people needing assistance, 2.8 million are in the famine-affected areas in the south.

    There are already lessons we can draw from this tragedy. We need to better understand how years of conflict, combined with variable weather patterns, create such vulnerability that even relatively small shocks have catastrophic impacts.

    If this understanding was shared by international donors, we might have had the resources to respond more effectively earlier and better mitigate, if not avert, famine.

    Along with fighting the famine, we must also put a shattered agricultural economy back together to help people escape from the prevailing famine conditions.

    Without the necessary funding, however, the humanitarian and development community will be fighting a lost battle. We must scale up aid to Somalia in order to save tens of thousands of lives.

    That’s the stark reality of translating statistics into action.

    By Mark Bowden, U.N. Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Somalia, 1 August 2011

    Follow the UN in Somalia on Facebook.


About the author
Mark

Mark Bowden is the U.N. Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Somalia.

UNDP in Somalia
Interview

Mark Bowden talks about the situation in Somalia.