UN warns of ‘grave humanitarian crisis’ in Somalia as more than 850,000 face starvation

While international aid comes under threat, agency says ‘we need to keep our attention on Somalia’

The UN’s director of humanitarian operations has told the world we “need to keep our attention on Somalia”, after new figures showed that more than 850,000 people in the country are in desperate need of food.

Torn apart by decades of armed conflict and suffering cyclical droughts, Somalia now has around a tenth of its 10 million population regarded as living in acute crisis conditions.

The UN’s John Ging, who has just returned from a three-day visit to the country, said a further two million of the Somali people were considered to be “food insecure”.

With other crises drawing attention away from Somalia’s plight and domestic pressures on international aid budgets, the UN said its appeal for a $933 million humanitarian fund had so far only received $36 million – a fact Mr Ging described as “very ominous”.

He told a news conference yesterday that by any standards the starvation figures for Somalia are “very, very large”.

“They tell us a simple message which is that the situation in Somalia for Somalis on the humanitarian side is very grave. It's also very fragile,” he said.

Mr Ging said the exact number identified as needed urgent humanitarian assistance was 857,000, according to a report from the UN World Food Programme's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit.

While this was a “modest improvement” from the 870,000 reported in the previous month, that progress looks unlikely to continue in the context of falling aid.

The food security unit said about 75 per cent of the 857,000 Somalis who urgently need food are displaced from their homes, largely as a result of fighting, insecurity and lack of food.

Somalia has long been a rudderless nation plagued by cyclical drought and famine and decades of armed conflict.

Mr Ging said others are in rural areas that are very hard to access.

“In 2011, we had a global tragedy where 260,000 people died of famine in Somalia,” he said.

“We are working very hard to help the people recover in circumstances which are extremely difficult - the climate is very harsh and the security situation equally so.”

Three years ago, the UN appeal for Somalia achieved 86 per cent of its funding target – but last year it hit just 50 per cent, he said.

“Somalis have suffered endlessly for almost 25 years. We cannot be distracted now from our task to stay with them, to help to consolidate these fragile gains ... and this requires funding,” Mr Ging said.

“We need to keep our attention on Somalia. It's incredibly fragile and we don't want a repeat of what happened in 2011.”

Additional reporting by AP

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