Drought and conflict leave 8.7 million people hungry in Somalia and South Sudan



Press Release

Severe drought and ongoing violence in East Africa has put 8.7 million people in Somalia and South Sudan at risk of severe food insecurity. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for early action and increased support to avert famine, especially in South Sudan and Somalia. The failure of the long rains in Somalia and impact of the war in South Sudan have led to massive displacement, limiting agriculture opportunities, increasing food prices and inflation.

After more than five years of conflict, South Sudan remains one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Almost 7 million people are severely food insecure, the highest in the country’s history, and 21,000 people are likely living in famine conditions.

1.7 million people face acute food insecurity in Somalia, more than double what we saw at this time in 2017. This number is expected to rise to 2.2 million by September. However, the average number of people reached with food assistance from January to May 2019 declined 47% compared to those reached from August to December 2018.

Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Senior Director of Health at the International Rescue Committee, said,  “Multiple countries in East Africa where the IRC works, especially Somalia and South Sudan, are facing extremely high levels of hunger. The IRC calls for early action and increased humanitarian support to these countries now in order to avert famine and save lives.

Food insecurity hits children the hardest. 860,000 children in South Sudan and nearly 1 million in Somalia are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year. Access to treatment is seldom guaranteed. Globally, roughly 80% of acutely malnourished children do not have access to treatment.

To address the treatment gap, the IRC and its partners have developed a new, simplified approach to malnutrition which treats moderate and severe acute malnutrition together in one program, with one therapeutic product. It has the potential to save millions more lives over the next decade.

As food insecurity continues to ravage East Africa, now more than ever, innovative solutions to hunger and malnutrition are needed. The humanitarian sector must adopt simplified approaches that expand access to treatment and build capacity at the community level so more children can get the help they deserve.”

The IRC has more than 400 staff in South Sudan responding to the increasingly dire food insecurity crisis through our support for health, nutrition, reproduction health and women’s protection and empowerment, child protection, as well as livelihoods. The IRC is one of the largest providers of aid in South Sudan serving more than 900,000 people.

The areas of concern, northern (Puntland) and central Somalia, are areas where the IRC is operational and scaling up our programming. The IRC is responding to the current drought supporting families with healthcare for malnourished children, unconditional cash transfers to help people quickly get the support they need, rehabilitation of boreholes and water sources as well as mobile health services to reach deeper into hard hit areas. The IRC will also be watching internal displacement towards urban centers, particularly Mogadishu, Galkacyo and Garowe. As the drought progresses, as people’s resistance begins to break down, we will likely see an increase in movement towards areas where families will anticipate that they can receive assistance. We will also be closely watching for, and responding to, increases in protection concerns, particularly gender-based violence, as displacement increases.

The IRC began working in Somalia in 1981 in the aftermath of the Somalia-Ethiopia conflict. Over the years operations faced several interruptions due to insecurity and civil unrest but has been operating continuously since 2007.



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