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Somali Famine

Updated on March 14, 2012

In the highly populated modern world we live in, famine is a very serious issue. This disaster shouldn’t happen in the 21st century, but it is happening in Somalia.

Put simply, famine is confirmed when there is evidence of severe malnutrition affecting more than 30 percent of children, in some parts of Somalia levels have reached over 50 percent. The UN officially declared famine in five regions of Somalia; Afgoye, Southern Bakool, Mogadishu, Middle and Lower Shabelle. Hazardous drought conditions have tipped defenceless people into the shocking predicament the whole world has witnessed over the recent months. They say that even after the famine has been prominent around the Horn of Africa, the crisis still remains huge.

Effects of the Disaster

on people: According to statistics on the 17th of August over 30,000 children were among the dead and a further 400,000 still remain at risk of death. The mortality rate in the worst affected areas shockingly nears 10,000 a day. While these figures are increasingly disturbing, even more appallingly, families have to leave their meagre homes in order to search for aid. In most instances they have to face the awful choice of leaving the weaker children behind in order to secure the safety of the stronger ones. Dadaab is now classed as the highest populated refugee camp in the world as over 450,000 people in desperate need had escaped there by the beginning of September. Statistics show that an average of 1,500 were crossing the border every day, and in total around 266,000 Somalians had fled to other countries already affected by severe malnutrition, accordingly spreading the problem to these neighbouring countries. All in all 12.4-million people are in dire need of basic resources and food, while at least 4-million need urgent humanitarian assistance.

on Environment: The condition of drought the country is in currently has been caused by successive seasons with very low rainfall and two completely failed rainy seasons. Resources show around the Horn of Africa previously they received droughts every six to eight years, they now arise every one to two years. Meteorological data also backs up the picture with mean temperatures; annual mean temperatures have increased by 1°C from 1960-2006 and the frequency of ‘hot days’ is increasing. Although there is no significant trends in annual rainfall, research suggests that the rainfall decreased between 1980 and 2009 in the wet season. There is still a worry that with the coming rains there will be a spread of future diseases causing even more strife.

on Economic Structure: The Economic state that Somalia is in is way below what any country needs to be in able to function. With 12.4-million people in the community affected by the drought, a highly unstable government and terrorist inclusion there is little the people in this third-world country can do to support themselves. Because of the drought Uganda has had four successive poor harvests; in Kenya they have only managed to harvest 28% of their normal harvest and around the Horn around 80 percent of the land is infertile. In Ethiopia and Eritrea crop losses are around 75% in some areas. These harvest problems affect both the industries of the country, the community’s ability to work and without the food resources being produced it throws the country into further deficiency of food.

on Social Structure: As one of the poorest areas of the world when a disaster like this happens, any education and order that was previously prominent cease to exist any longer. All the people can rely on to help them survive is handouts and food drops from the government and international relief aid. Families are being torn apart as the youngest and weakest are the first to die. A woman arrived with her family at a UN displacement camp which was a three week trek from where they had lived, unfortunately four of her six children had died. “There is nothing in the world worse than watching your own child die in front of your eyes because you cannot feed him,” she said of her ordeal. The one story gives a picture of what life has been like, even for previous ‘well off’ families in this region.

This graph shows the maize crop harvest (1996-2011) compared to the average harvest (1996-2010). Significantly the 2011 crop is a third of even the second worst year in the last 15 years.
This graph shows the maize crop harvest (1996-2011) compared to the average harvest (1996-2010). Significantly the 2011 crop is a third of even the second worst year in the last 15 years.

Relief Organisation involvement and influence

Relief for this crisis has been enormous, over 1.3-billion dollars has been raised for the welfare of the people of southern Africa. According to the United Nations this is only 48% of the amount that is needed to have the best possible input. The largest contributors to the problem have been the United States donating $500-million to the cause and British aid is still feeding 2.4 million people across the region. Somalia is in the dreadful strait it is because of conflict, drought and high global food prices which combine to aggravate the humanitarian situation. There is still the huge problem of the Al-Shabaab militia group, this group which has links to Al-Qaida controls southern Somalia. When this disaster arose this group made it clear that they would take any sign of aid as a threat, they have prevented 3.6-million people from receiving aid of which 1.6-million are dangerously affected by the drought. The Human Rights Watch stated that “abuses by Al-Shabaab and pro-government forces have vastly multiplied the suffering from Somalia’s famine.” Eventually the militia group allowed aid to be delivered to the population they are controlling, since then there have been multiple investigations into theft of food aid and attacks on aid workers. The problem is, because of the intimidating nature of this group and the passing of the legislation from the USA preventing aid agencies from attempting to deliver aid to these areas, there is a worry that there is no hope for these people.

Accordingly the aid has been concentrated on the other half of the population not under legislation, many international aid projects are still making an incredible difference. There are many different problems and different projects are concentrating fixing their respective areas. “Health has had a high priority in British aid that has come to the region – 1.3m people being vaccinated against measles, for example, while 400,000 doses of anti-malarial medication are currently on their way to Somalia.” Another sector the UK are aiding is the distribution of seeds to 200,000 people, they will be planted once the drought conditions improve. The World Food Program (WFP) is dropping vitamin filled biscuits saving thousands of people from the brink of death, but unfortunately at this stage some are too weak to even digest the food. This group of people need urgent medical and nutritional assistance otherwise they will not be able to recover.

The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads the relief efforts from the USA topping $500 million recently.
The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads the relief efforts from the USA topping $500 million recently.

Recently though the Unites States government provided clarification that humanitarian agencies had no need to fear prosecution if delivering aid to the desperate people under the pro-government control. In brief, the famine in Somalia is a collective failure on the behalf of the international community, for forgetting simple principles of humanitarian aid. It is the aid to help the poorest people to avoid starvation, it should have no political strings attached.

Prevention and Mitigation effects

This catastrophe was not unprecedented, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced the warning for the drought in August, 2010. By the end of the year they had stated; according to future predictions it would be the worst drought around the Horn of Africa in sixty years and that the crop prospects for the region were terrible. The international community was too slow to respond and Oxfam stated once the disaster had begun this it was “a catastrophic breakdown in the world’s collective responsibility to act.” The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country is considered a ‘slow-onset’ disaster. These hazards receive less financial and media attention compared to other disasters and tragedies. Even many years ago predicted by the Executive director of WFP the drought was ‘an unprecedented crisis needing unprecedented response.’ Even to this day the international community continue to struggle to grasp the magnitude of the disaster this drought has become.


  • Doig, Fiona, et al [eds.] (2006) Natural Disasters and how we cope. Millennium House, Australia. - pp. 358 & 380.
  • Healy, Sally [pdf] (October 2011) Who is to blame for the Somali Famine? New Internationalist paper 13th October


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    • chrae profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I agree with what you say about people taking handouts for long periods of time and being uneducated, but in my opinion I don't think contraception would work at all unless you aim to wipe out the African population. Yes the birth rate of Somalia is 6.35 children/mother, but over 10% of all children born die before they reach the age of 1. It is not birth control that is needed, it's more humanitarian and educational assistance that will make the difference, because in order for the people to rise above poverty they need to be fit enough to work and the children be able to go to school and get an education.

    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 

      6 years ago from America

      .........4 of her six children died on the trip? Instead of food it sounds like they need contraceptives! I don't mean to sound harsh but when is stupidity going to stop in this world? If these people have been taking handouts for this long then they are uneducated and will never have the means to support themselves.........meaning the children that do survive will simply be the next generation in a poverished country!


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