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Is Somalia Facing a Famine?

Without swift donor action and a reevaluation of food aid distribution, Somalia may once again be facing a widespread food security crisis.

According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1 million Somalis are internally displaced, and over 875,000 are in acute need of food aid. During a visit to Somalia in early July, Ted Chaiban, the Director of Emergency Programmes for UNICEF, stated that 200,000 of these 875,000 severely malnourished individuals are children.

The food security situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming months as minimal harvests are brought in after a year of poor seasonal rains. Food prices are already inflated, and rates of malnourishment across the country are rising.  If current trends continue, this could become a famine–which is a specific designation invoked by the United Nations when certain thresholds are reached on specific indicators like child mortality.

Somalia experienced a famine in 2011 that resulted in the death of 250,000 people, half of them children. While the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the UN Development Programme were each active in providing monitoring and assistance during the 2011 famine, their efforts were hindered by Somalia’s fragmented security situation. The distribution of food aid was fraught with difficulty, as all foreign aid organizations struggled to gain access to famine victims and effectively monitor food aid deliveries in areas controlled by the militant group, al Shabaab. al Shabaab rejected international food aid throughout the famine, but lost credibility and popular support as Somalis died.

Somalia’s new government, which was inaugurated in 2012, recently called the food crisis a “precursor to the situation in 2011 in its intensity.” OCHA’s Operations Director, John Ging, reaffirmed the idea during his July 2014 visit to Somalia, stating “All the signs we saw before 2011’s severe famine are here – reduced humanitarian access, insecurity, increasing food prices, delayed rains and rapidly worsening malnutrition among children.”

Also similar to the famine of 2011 is the renewed presence of al Shabaab militants, who have been carrying out continued attacks across Somalia, including repeated attacks on the capital of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab presence in Mogadishu and the deteriorating security situation across the country have already made it difficult for aid organizations to reach those in need of food aid in militant-controlled areas. In fact, in a report released July 24, 2014, OCHA reported the “highest deterioration” is in Mogadishu, where over 350,000 individuals are in acute need of food aid.

The OCHA report also highlights to gap between the 2014 Somalia Strategic Response Plan funding request for $933 million and the available funds that have thus far been collected. So far, only $268 million has been received – only 29% of the total request. A UN emergency fund has also allocated over $21 million to support emergency humanitarian work in Somalia.

What can be done to stave off a famine? For one, the funding gap needs to close. These funds pay for the food aid and other essential humanitarian relief that can keep people alive while prices are high and food is inaccessible.  Also, humanitarian organizations need to find mechanisms to work with al Shabaab to secure humanitarian access to areas under their control. Right now, there is an estimated 350,000 people in Mogadishu alone who are in areas controlled by al Shebab.

If al Shebab refuses to grant humanitarian access, the international community should consider utilizing military action to create humanitarian corridors to access the food insecure. In 2011, the famine only broke when Kenyan forces supported a UN and African Union-backed effort to defeat al Shabaab in Somalia

While the situation in Somalia is bleak, the international community’s decisive action, effective fundraising, and internalization of lessons from the past can ensure that Somalia does not face another famine. But the clock is ticking.

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Here’s Why Children are Fleeing Central America

I speak with Mike McDonald of Bloomberg about the unrelenting violence in Central America. Mike describes how organized criminal groups use violence and murder in extortion rackets to fund their activities, and are the crucial “push” factor that is forcing unaccompanied minors to flee the USA in extraordinarily high numbers.

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WHO Approves Experimental Ebola Drug

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The World Health Organization took a highly unusual step of recommending that an unproven drug be distributed to fight the outbreak. ”The group of 12 international experts convened by the WHO concluded it was ethical in the situation in west Africa to offer unproven treatments with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, either as treatment or prevention. But they made clear high ethical standards must be observed. There must be complete transparency about the implications of the treatment and patients and their families must give informed consent – which means they must understand the risks as well as the possible benefits. There must also be freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community, the WHO said in a statement. (Guardian

Africa’s Youth Population to Swell…If present trends continue, by 2050 Nigeria will account for one in every 10 births globally. A new report from UNICEF for International Youth Day. “Africa’s under-18 population will swell by two-thirds to reach almost a billion by 2050, a new UN report says. The findings show a “massive shift in the world’s child population towards Africa”, it says. Its projections indicate that by 2050, about 40% of all children will be in Africa, up from around 10% in 1950. This is despite the fact that child mortality rates in Africa will remain high, it says. The continent currently accounts for about half of child mortality globally and the proportion could rise to around 70% per cent by 2050, according to the Generation 2030/Africa Report released by Unicef, the UN’s child agency. BBC


There are reports that South Sudan’s warring factions are arming themselves for another bout of fighting, a delegation from the U.N. Security Council said on Tuesday, threatening both sides with sanctions amid growing fears of a man-made famine. (Reuters

An ECOWAS official has died from Ebola in Nigeria, the West African regional bloc said on Tuesday, taking the total number of deaths in the country from the virus to three. (AFP

What Uganda can teach west Africa about the ebola outbreak. (BBC

On a lighter side, here’s a list of the African airlines that are most likely to lose your bags.  (Mail and Guardian

South Africa’s ex-President Thabo Mbeki has called for a boycott of Israeli goods to show solidarity with Palestinians. (BBC

Spain picked up more than 700 African migrants trying to enter the country by boat on Tuesday, while hundreds more tried to scramble over a border fence into the Spanish territory of Melilla (AFP


An Iraqi army helicopter crashed on its way to deliver aid to stranded IDPs in Iraq. The pilot was killed and several passengers, including a New York Times journalist and a Parliamentarian, were injured. (NYT

Yazidi Refugees in Turkey recount their harrowing escape from ISIS (HuffPo

Iraq’s new prime minister-designate won swift endorsements from uneasy mutual allies the United States and Iran on Tuesday as he called on political leaders to end crippling feuds that have let jihadists seize a third of the country. (Reuters


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday accused Pakistan of waging a “proxy war” and vowed to strengthen his country’s armed forces in a speech during a rare visit to disputed Kashmir.  (CSM

The Americas

A shallow 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Ecuadoran capital Quito Tuesday, triggering landslides that killed at least two people and violently shaking buildings and homes. (AFP

A Chilean woman became the first legal medical marijuana patient in Latin America (NBC


Improving sexual and reproductive health for young adolescents in Kenya. Gates Foundation/Impatient Optimists

An interactive series about the history of USAID. (Devex

Despite America’s pledge to invest $33 billion in Africa’s economies, federal trade laws must change to further improve U.S.-Africa trade relations, says former under secretary of state for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer in Forbes

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The Humanitarian Catastrophe in Iraq

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is getting worse.

As of this morning, there were still 20,000 to 30,000 people trapped on Sinjar mountain in Northern Iraq. The USA says it has dropped tens of thousands of meals to those stranded on the mountain, but the  airdrops of humanitarian supplies to the stranded population seems to be of limited effect. The UN high Commissioner for Refugees says that those who are trapped on the mountain are without food, water or shelter.

In a report today, Amnesty said flatly that these humanitarian efforts are “failing.”

The international response to large scale displacement of civilians from areas seized by ISIS has been woefully inadequate to date. Even much publicized emergency air-drops to members of the Yezidi community stranded in villages on the Sinjar Mountain surrounded by ISIS militants have proved largely ineffective.

“We have nothing, nothing has come to us,” a man trapped in Kocho, a village on the south side of the Sinjar Mountain, told Amnesty International.

“We hear the planes in the distance but nobody has come to us or sent us anything. We can’t leave. ISIS will catch us and kill us if we do. For god’s sake, please help us”.

Hundreds of survivors from the mountain and many still stuck there told Amnesty International said that no aid had reached them and many said water bottles air-dropped in recent days often broke on impact.

Meanwhile, the areas to which people are fleeing ISIS’ advance are becoming overwhelmed. The city of Zakho near the Turkish border, with a population of 350,000 is hosting some 100,000 IDPs. In all, In all the UN Refugee Agency says there are more than 1.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq. An estimated 700,000 are in the Kurdistan region which UNHCR says already hosts some 220,000 Syrian refugees.

American military engagement is certainly helping to prevent ISIS’ advance on the city of Erbil; and is also helping create a path off of Sinjar mountain for the tens of thousands of people trapped there. But the humanitarian catastrophe created by ISIS remains as dire as ever. And there are still tens of thousands of people trapped on the mountain without the basic necessities to sustain human life.

What is desperately needed at this point is what officials are calling a “humanitarian corridor.” The top UN official in Iraq is reportedly trying to secure some sort of overland route to reach displaced populations — in Sinjar and surrounding areas — with the relief they so desperately need.  Without it, thousands of people may die.

Image credit: Iraqi refugee children who fled from Tal Afar and found shelter in schools, mosques and unfinished buildings in the area of Sinjar, in Ninawa governorate. Photo: Iraqi Red Crescent/UNOCHA

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2014 Breaks Records – Not the Good Kind

It can be difficult to place the severity of humanitarian crises in context, but by most accounts, 2014 is unprecedented in the seriousness of appeals for international aid.

This year, the UN has requested $17.3 billion for humanitarian responses, the highest amount in its history, according to OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service. The figure was adjusted upward from an original $15.3 billion because of developments on the ground in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Iraq, Palestine, the Philippines, and South Sudan.

Two crises are responsible for the lion’s share of the funding requests: Syria and South Sudan. $6 billion has been requested to respond to the suffering caused by the civil war in Syria, compared to just $1.2 billion two years ago. Meanwhile, $3.1 billion dollars has been requested to respond to the conflict in South Sudan and the ensuing refugee crisis in nearby countries.

2013 held the previous record for the largest total humanitarian appeal, at $12.8 billion dollars.

Since 2000, when less than $2 billion was requested, UN humanitarian appeals have skyrocketed. The amount of funding provided to meet those appeals has also climbed upward, although it consistently lags behind the fundraising goals.

This reveals something else about humanitarian appeals. The gap between what is needed and what is paid for is ever widening.

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So far this year, only $7 billion of the $17.3 billion requested by humanitarian agencies has been provided. That’s about 40%. Typically by the end of each year, only 60-75% of the UN’s humanitarian funding requests are met. Still, even if donors provide two-thirds of the funding required, that still leaves a significant shortfall. If precedent holds that shortfall in 2014 could be around $5 billion dollars.

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When you break down the total under funded appeals to individual appeals, you can get a real sense of the extent to which appeals for some humanitarian emergencies are ignored. For example, the top three underfunded response plans in 2014 as of August 6 are for the Gambia (11% funded), Nigeria (14% funded), and the Republic of the Congo (15% funded).

In addition to needing a greater quantity of humanitarian assistance, the UN is also encountering increased difficulty in distributing aid in 2014. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced on July 22 that because of a surge of conflict, it has moved 56 times more food by air this year compared to the same period last year. WFP cited security risks, blocked roadways, poor infrastructure, and the looting of food stocks as reasons for its resort to air delivery, which is far more expensive than delivery by truck.

These humanitarian appeals fund food, medicine, shelter and basic elements of human dignity for people uprooted by conflict or natural disaster. Every dollar that goes under funded means someone will go without food, water, medicine or a toilet. Unfortunately, the unprecedented scale of humanitarian appeals in 2014 probably means there will be an unprecedented deficit as well.

 Charts from data gleaned from OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service


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A Power Struggle in Iraq

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Prime Minister Nouri Al Malaki has been ousted by a member of his own party, but he looks determined to put up a fight and plunge Iraq deeper into conflict. “President Obama welcomed the nomination of a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, interrupting his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to announce in a televised statement that both he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had congratulated Mr. Abadi on the phone, calling his nomination “an important step towards forming a new government that can unite Iraq’s different communities.”Although Mr. Maliki is widely reviled in Iraq, he remains a formidable force, with relatives who command special security forces, courts that are heavily shaped by his influence and a history of exacting revenge on his domestic opponents. Mr. Maliki’s stubbornness presents multiple challenges to the United States, which wants to preserve Iraq’s cohesion while helping to stop ISIS’ avowed goal of creating a monolithic Islamic caliphate that ignores national boundaries.” (NYT

The International Committee for the Red Cross is going to run an aid operation into Eastern Ukraine (ABC

Global Dispatches Podcast: Chris Hill was born into the foreign service…and stayed there. He has served as Ambassador to Iraq and was the lead American negotiator in the six party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. Ambassador Hill sits down with Mark to discuss managing US relations with key allies as the Iron Curtain fell, facing down Slobodan Milosevic, negotiating with North Korea and the current problems facing Iraq.


Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos has 10 confirmed cases of Ebola, up from seven at the last count, and two patients have died, including the Liberian who brought the virus in, the health minister said on Monday. (AlertNet

U.S. authorities have approved a request from Liberia’s government to send sample doses of the experimental ZMapp drug to treat Liberian doctors infected with Ebola, the Liberian presidency said. (AlertNet

A committee of medical ethicists met at the behest of the WHO to discuss the implications of distributing an experimental treatment for ebola. (WHO


The US government is contributing $10 million to the French-led operation against terrorist groups in the Sahel. (The Hill

At least 40,000 people who fled fighting in South Sudan are staying in horrific conditions at a UN camp for displaced people in Benitu. MSF is sounding an alarm. (BBC

The United States on Monday condemned South Sudan’s government and rebels for failing to form a transitional government by Sunday’s deadline, calling it “an outrage and an insult to their citizens.” (AlterNet

Britain’s Africa minister Mark Simmonds resigned on Monday, a spokesman for the prime minister’s Downing Street office said, becoming the second Foreign Office minister to quit in a week. (The Standard


Hamas may agree to letting Palestinian Authority police monitor the Rafa crossing into Egypt, potentially paving the way for an agreement that satisfy Hamas’ demand that Israel lift its blockade. (Jerusalem Post

The UN Human Rights Council named a three person commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes in Gaza. One of the commissioners included Amal Alamuddin who happens to be George Clooney’s fiancee. She turned down the appointment. (Time

Iraq has launched a polio immunization campaign aiming to protect over four million children under the age of 5 throughout the country against the crippling disease. (UNICEF


India’s new government promised it would build more than five million new toilets within its first 100 days in office – the equivalent of constructing roughly one toilet every second. A video report from BBC

NATO will soon be forced to take a decision on a total pullout from Afghanistan unless a deadlock over the country’s election ends and a new president signs an agreement allowing foreign forces to stay, the head of the alliance said on Monday. (Reuters

The Americas

Hillary Clinton sat down for an interview in which she appeared to make some sharp criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy. (The Atlantic


The Ebola Outbreak shows why the Global Health System is Broken, Charles Kenney in Bloomberg

A window is open — for now: Instability and opportunity in Myanmar (Devex

South Sudan and Somalia–a Tale of Two Famines Daily Maverick

What You need to know about the UN’s Gaza War Crimes Investigation (UN Dispatch

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