Localized famine could be witnessed in some of the worst drought-affected areas in southern Somalia in September, warns the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-Net). Using the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) five-point scale, this would be phase five: "catastrophe/famine".
The scale, developed by the Somalia-focused Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is used by FEWS-Net and most other aid agencies in their analysis of the drought and food situation in the Horn of Africa.
The IPC scale ranges from "generally food secure" to "famine/humanitarian catastrophe", based on a range of data relating to rainfall, market prices, agricultural production, food security and nutrition.
Large areas of southeastern Ethiopia, southern Somalia and northeastern Kenya are already in phase four, the “emergency” phase.
Nicholas Haan, the food security scientist who developed IPC and its global manager, said the present climatic, price and conflict conditions in the Horn justified the classification as well as the warning of the possibility of phase five.
Specifically, phase five conditions would emerge “if one or more of the following were to happen: (1) if prices of key commodities [such as staple cereals maize and sorghum] spike further in the coming months, (2) if conflict [in southern Somalia] worsens in key areas that further reduces humanitarian access and/or prohibits trade and market routes, (3) if the harvest and livestock conditions turn out to be worse than these current predictions, or (4) the next rainy season fails [which will be evident by late October/November]".
The IPC scale uses a number of indicators to pronounce a famine, including acute malnutrition in more than 30 percent of children, two deaths per 10,000 people every day, a pandemic illness, access to less than four litres of water a day and 2,100 kilocalories of food, large-scale displacement of people, civil strife, and complete loss of assets and source of income.
An aid worker involved in some of the analysis said: “I would not call the situation as bad as the famine in 1984; unlike now, there were no warnings then, but in this instance alerts have been issued since August 2010.”
FEWS-Net is among several agencies that issued warnings after poor rains in one of the driest 2010 October-December seasons recorded in 60 years. Some of the pastoral and cropping areas recorded their second or third consecutive poor rainy season.
Haan said humanitarian aid such as cash and or general food distributions, programmes to provide more access to water, interventions to feed, treat or slaughter livestock before they are too emaciated for sale, and high-level political negotiations to ensure humanitarian access, especially in southern Somalia, would normally have already begun when a situation deteriorates into phase three.
He explained, “If the situation in some parts [of the Horn of Africa] does evolve into phase five famine, this would be a call for imperative action that comprehensively meets the basic requirements of increasing numbers of people in need. If a situation deteriorates to phase five famine, the ability of households to meet even their most basic food, health, water, sanitation, protection, and other needs all disintegrates - thus the need for all-out comprehensive humanitarian assistance.
“If need be, for situations with limited humanitarian access or otherwise political interference, there will be a call for extraordinary measures to ensure humanitarian assistance is delivered.
“If famine were to emerge, any financial, political, logistical or other constraints need to be wiped aside and the full cooperation of humanity needs to be focused on saving lives and preventing social collapse. This is the humanitarian imperative that should kick in even at phase three crisis IPC levels, let alone phase five famine."
The Responsibility to Protect (a concept legitimizing international intervention on humanitarian grounds endorsed by the UN Security Council in general terms) to improve humanitarian access especially in southern Somalia should kick in, he said.
"Of course it would be much better for all concerned - vulnerable populations of course, but also national governments, in terms of development plans, and international donors in terms of the cost-benefit of investing in preventative measures - to avoid such situations by heeding early warning signs and tackling chronic issues.”
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Humanitarian assistance during emergencies is deployed through “clusters” - groupings of UN agencies, NGOs and other international organizations around a sector or service.
Graham Farmer, coordinator of the new global food security cluster, which aims to combine food aid with efforts to address the causes of food insecurity in the long term, said discussions with aid agencies in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were continuing over where support could be provided.
Somalia has UN and NGO-led national and local clusters in place, while emergency responses in Ethiopia and Kenya are led by the respective governments.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions