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Sitting behind a table facing a crowded room of journalists, Mark Bowden, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, uttered the word that until then had been only whispered: famine.
So, now it’s official: Somalia is in famine.
The official ‘upgrading’ of the crisis from ‘drought’ to ‘famine’ will make headlines around the world. Of course, it will matter little to the people of Somalia who for over six months have struggled to find enough food to keep themselves alive.
People are starving to death. That’s the reality. In a world of plenty, people are starving to death.
In Somalia, 3.7 million people – half the entire population of the country – are at risk of starvation. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of Ireland at risk of death simply because they don’t have enough food to sustain themselves.
Across eastern Africa, in excess of 10 million people are facing this situation. It is at its most severe in Somalia, but across Kenya and Ethiopia millions more wake each morning not knowing how they are going to survive the day.
Sadly, this crisis is going to get worse before it gets better. There will be no rain here until September at the earliest, meaning that food stocks will not be replenished until January. That is, of course, providing the September rains materialise. There is a very real chance that they won’t, which would leave east Africa in a situation too appalling to even contemplate.
Regardless of the terminology used, people here have been dying for months. Trócaire has been providing emergency relief to communities in affected areas as far back as October 2010.
The situation now risks spiralling out of control. According to Bowden’s estimates, people in Somalia need $300m over the next two months in order to avoid a complete catastrophe.
Somalia has been ignored by the world for too long. The people there need our help.
As you read this, they are literally starving to death.