The facts are hard to fully grasp: across the Horn of Africa, there are 13.3 million people in crisis – more than the populations in the cities of Los Angeles and New York combined.
And the crisis is the worst in Somalia, a country gripped by two decades of conflict. Somalis, primarily women and children, have streamed across the borders into Ethiopia and Kenya in search of life-saving food. For those still in Somalia, an early September report (pdf) was heart-wrenching: four million Somalis in crisis, with 750,000 at risk of starvation if critical assistance didn’t reach them over the next few months.
USAID, working with partners, has moved forward with critical and life-saving assistance. We know from past famines that the biggest killer of children weakened by lack of food is preventable diseases. So we have worked to provide vaccinations, clean water and basic hygiene. For nearly six months, our emergency teams have worked to save lives in one of the most difficult places in the world to reach those most in need.
And now, we finally have some good news to report. The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) and the U.N. Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) released the latest data from Somalia today. The latest information indicates improvements in food security in all areas of Somalia, largely driven by humanitarian assistance, which has significantly improved household food access. Humanitarian assistance has also contributed to sharp drops in food prices, which nonetheless remain above average.
Famine conditions have abated in three of the six areas previously declared as experiencing ongoing famine in southern Somalia. Conditions have improved from famine to emergency levels in Bay, Bakool, and Lower Shabelle regions. Though the data shows improvement, famine conditions persist in Middle Shabelle region and the areas of Mogadishu and Afgoye.
Let me clearly note that while the number of Somalis at risk of imminent starvation has dropped, four million Somalis remain in need of humanitarian assistance through August 2012. We are not declaring victory, but we are heartened to have this critical data affirming that we are reaching many of those so desperately in need of help.
Unfortunately, we also know that the crisis is far from over. We know from past famines that when we stop assistance too early, we have new spikes of mortality and disease.
It is too early to ease up on assistance in Somalia or across the Horn, where more than $750 million in U.S. assistance continues to provide food, treatment for the severely malnourished, health care, clean water, proper sanitation, and hygiene education and supplies to help 4.6 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.
We remain committed to providing vital emergency assistance, and we continue to look ahead – especially in Ethiopia and Kenya, where we can literally “Feed the Future” by building sustainable solutions through investments in agriculture, livelihoods and health.
And with today’s report, we know we are on the right track in Somalia, but our life-saving efforts continue. Those in the midst of this crisis still need our help, and you can be part of the solution. Join us.