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Two million people at risk of starvation as drought returns to Somalia

Somali boys (Tasnim News Agency)Around 2.2 million people in Somalia could face starvation by September unless urgent action is taken to respond to the drought that has hit the country. Somalia is having one of the driest rainy seasons in more than 30 years. Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, said there was a “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” there. A further 3.2 million people—about a fifth of Somalia’s population—may also suffer from depleted food supplies. Somalis have only just begun to recover from a two-year drought that ended in 2017.



Internally Displaced Persons camp in Baidoa (UN)
April to June is the longer of two rainy seasons in Somalia. Scientists say that cyclone activity in the southern Indian Ocean—including the severe Cyclone Idai of March 2019—is responsible for the drought, by preventing rains from moving north. It followed abnormally hot and dry conditions in the region between January and March, and lower-than-expected rainfall during the deyr, the shorter of Somalia's two rainy seasons, between October and November 2018. Because rainfall is well below what is needed, crops have been devastated and many livestock animals have perished.


Soil moisture in the Horn of Africa, May 2019 (NASA)
The lack of rainfall eventually leads to a reduction in soil moisture. In turn, lack of moisture—especially at critical times in planting and growing seasons—causes harvests to fail.
This map (right) shows soil moisture "anomalies" (differences from the normal amounts) in April 2019. Areas in green had more moisture in the upper layers of soil than is normal for April, while areas in orange had less.


Failed harvests and livestock deaths contribute to a crisis in what is called "food security", that is, a lack of access by people to sufficient food. As a result of the latest drought, Somalia is expected soon to reach the "emergency" food insecurity phase (the fourth out of five phases, just below “famine”). The third phase, "crisis", is expected in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, where drought conditions have also set in.
Drawing water from a well in Baidoa, May 2019 (UN) 

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