Somalia on the brink of famine

After three consecutive years of almost no rain, the East African country of Somalia is in the grips of its worst drought in more than 40 years. Experts say conditions are so dire for the nation’s 16 million residents that a famine threatening millions of people is fast approaching.

Video transcript

- Somalia is currently witnessing the harshest drought in the recent past.

- It hasn't rained here for three years.

MALCOLM WEBB: So this is what's happened to many of the animals. And it's the animals that enable people to live in this dry environment that even at the best of times is difficult to survive in.

PATRICK YOUSSEF: My name is Patrick Youssef. I'm the regional director for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Geneva. We know that this is the third and most severe drought since at least 1995, which means that the situation is not only alarming, but also deteriorating.

According to figures from UN agencies, about 4.5, 4 and a 1/2 million people affected by the drought. And the latest food insecurity projection shows that 4.1 million approximately Somalians will face crises to emergency level of food insecurity. People are massively abandoning their homes in search for food and water.

The number of people displaced internally by drought since the end of 2021 has increased by approximately 600,000 people.

WILL SEAL: I'm Will Seal. I'm the advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Somalia. In Somalia, and of course, other countries in the region, the Horn, it's a tragedy kind of unfolding of years of underdevelopment, climatic kind of shifts. You're seeing increasing frequency and intensity of major events.

And it's a combination of factors. But then how it's manifesting in Somalia through this particular drought is just a tragedy on a massive scale. The conflict in Ukraine, it's been very interesting. I mean, Africa is very exposed in particular, as well as parts of kind of North Africa and the Middle East, to wheat exports from Ukraine, Russia.

So whatever happens in terms of-- whatever happens in terms of that conflict, it's impacting prices here. And it happened almost-- not immediately, but in the weeks that preceded. So what we've seen is increasing wheat prices, increasing cooking oil prices, and increasing fuel prices.

And unfortunately, while we could talk about these economic trends, that literally can-- it can literally be the difference for a family between able to feed their children or not. And where the humanitarian agencies come in is to address those underlying urgent life-saving needs. But these problems exist particularly in Somalia because of decades of a humanitarian crisis that have made ongoing conflict, drought, flooding, all these different factors.

And then the communities, particularly in the rural areas, are very, very fragile as a result of that. So it doesn't take much to then trigger another crisis. And so what you're seeing is these compounding needs and these compounding crises.

There was COVID-19. There was flooding. There was-- this drought has been ongoing. There's desert locusts. And they just build and build and build on each other.

PATRICK YOUSSEF: We hear from some of those survivors that the exhausting road to those towns. They even report that even wildlife have been encroaching on people's homes in search of water. So most of those living conditions are not only bad, but getting from bad to worse.

If we start responding to the food crisis with food and staples, I think we'll be missing the point. If we don't engage in climate action, if we don't ask the relevant development actors to step in-- either international financial institutions, but also the states themselves-- to search for solutions to the root causes that brings us into the cyclical unfortunate cycles of vulnerability that we see across Africa.

Everyone fears I think that the world's wealthy donor countries might prove so focused on the war in Europe that they forget the desperate needs elsewhere. Ukraine can only teach us one lesson. If we don't learn that lesson and be better afterwards, there is no win-win in a situation where those who are trying to help endure and those who are helpless are dying.