Today the U.N. declared ongoing famine in the Bay Region, adding to the five areas in southern Somalia already facing famine conditions. The U.N. also increased the number of Somalis in crisis to 4 million and says that 750,000 are at risk of death in the coming months in the absence of an adequate humanitarian response.
The unfortunate reality is that Somalia is the most difficult operating environment for humanitarians in the world today. Access continues to be denied by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups, creating an indefensible situation where they would rather put hundreds of thousands of Somali lives in jeopardy than allow humanitarian aid in. The massive amount of humanitarian aid required to save tens of thousands of lives simply cannot reach those in Bay Region and other areas in southern Somalia.
You might be wondering why people don't just leave southern Somalia. Many in southern Somalia are already too weak to flee to neighboring countries to receive life-saving assistance. For those who are able to leave, they face a grueling walk through the desert, often with no food or water to sustain them. If they survive the weeks long walk to Kenya or Ethiopia, they often tell haunting stories of losing several children on the way and are so malnourished themselves that they require treatment to survive.
So when the U.N. says "750,000 people at risk of death in the coming four months in the absence of adequate response," what they really mean is that unless we -- the international community -- can get access to provide humanitarian assistance to southern Somalia, the already horrific situation will get worse. Without access, the number of people in crisis will increase, and famine will continue to spread in Somalia.
We continue to call on all parties involved to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Somalis in need. The international community will not stop trying to provide life-saving aid in southern Somalia, and we will not stop trying to gain access to those in need.
The United States is providing over $600 million in assistance to help those affected by drought in the Horn of Africa, including $102 million in assistance to help those in Somalia. U.S. assistance provides food, treatment for the severely malnourished, health care, clean water, proper sanitation, hygiene education and supplies. We continue to look for innovative ways to get assistance into southern Somalia.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the USAID Impact Blog.