Relief International aid worker Eric Anderson is the Senior Program Officer in East Africa. He is currently on the ground working in Somalia to provide relief to communities suffering from the lasting effects of the famine. Below are his thoughts on the continuing problems caused by the famine, and the aftermath of what happens when the United Nations declares a famine officially “over.”
The Famine in the Horn of Africa is Declared Over…..Now What?
On Friday, February 3, 2012 Relief International Somalia Country Director Randhir Singh and I attended a crucial UN meeting on Somalia. This event was part of a bi-annual presentation on food security and nutrition that focused on Somalia. The output of this briefing was the announcement that the famine crisis announced last July in Somalia is now over.
To frame this, let me first offer a couple of explanations:
What exactly constitutes a “famine” crisis situation? The term famine, within the humanitarian community, has come to be a very technical term and though it does (and should) elicit a deeply emotional response, its use in our community is restricted to an evidence-based determination. With limited resources available to respond to crises, the idea of this definition is to better understand the overall severity of a food crisis and to be able to do so in a transparent manner. Famine is therefore made up of three distinct characteristics:
• Extremely widespread food insecurity
o This can be measured in a number of different ways, but is rooted in the definition of food security that suggests food security exists, “when all people, at all times, have access to adequate supply of nutritious food for their biological needs as well as the maintenance of their dignity.”
o The famine threshold implies that more than 75 percent of households are food INSECURE.
• Acute malnutrition rates above 30 percent
o Global acute malnutrition (GAM) is a condition in which the body becomes “wasted” and in which the children that would be expected to undergo rapid growth and weight gain are instead losing weight. Basically, the ratio of their height to their weight suggests that the body is actually breaking down their muscle tissues in order to provide the much needed energy that can maintain basic bodily functions.
• Exceptionally high rates of mortality
o As a rate, this refers to the frequency at which mortality is occurring in a population.
o The threshold for famine conditions is greater than 2 people per 10,000 people per day.
The term famine can only be used when ALL THREE of these conditions are met, indicating the need for some sort of awareness because the worst of the worst occurs. This was the case in southern Somalia, made clear through the famine declaration in July.
The UN has a sub-agency of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that is mostly staffed by Somalis located throughout the country. The employees collect data dealing with malnutrition , health indicators, conflict, weather, climate, markets, terms of trade, mortality etc., in a vigorous and scientific manner. Twice a year this data is consolidated and vetted amongst a community of up to 200 participants ranging from local Somalia based NGOs to major UN agency representatives. This is the data that drives humanitarian response, action and funding in Somalia. It is conducted on a bi-annual basis and coordinated with the two major seasons.
The greatest fear at this point is that the take away message is that all is well in Somalia and that it is on the mend from a crisis.
The truth of the matter is that some of the most horrible outcomes we can imagine have lessened to the point that they are now just below the threshold at which we laid out to distinguish a crisis from a famine. The southern region experienced a long overdue effective rainy season and thanks to the enormous efforts of the humanitarian community, agricultural production bounced back fairly well, particularly those of FAO-Somalia.
Nine out of 20 children displaced to Mogadishu were acutely malnourished in July. The number has now decreased to four out of 20. This continues to be massively unacceptable.
Relief International operates in Mogadishu and is expanding programming to include internally displaced people in and near Mogadishu. Despite the progress, 2.34 million people remain in crisis. Most of them are located in the south of Somalia, where few agencies are operational. Though all three indicators are no longer met to define the situation as an outright famine, mortality and malnutrition rates are above the threshold in many locations of Somalia.
Our greatest error now would be to consider this situation resolved and to let the compassion we felt at the height of the emergency in August of 2011 wane. It is important to recognize that now is an opportunity to continue the fragile recovery, to rebuild livelihoods and assets, and to provide the resilience needed against future climatic shocks.
— Eric S. Anderson, Sr. Program Officer, East Africa, 7th February, 2012
To help fight famine and bring relief to those suffering in the Horn, please CLICK HERE and selectHorn of Africa: Famine Relief. Thank you for your support.
Originally posted on the Relief International website on February 7, 2012.