Somalia pledging conference opens as famine looms

Young girls line up at a feeding center in Mogadishu, Somalia, on March 9, 2017. Somalia is currently experiencing a severe drought, and may be on the brink of famine unless urgent humanitarian action is taken soon. Photo by: Tobin Jones / AMISOM

Editor’s Note, May 11: This article was updated to include a new call for funding from the U.N.

Aid groups report that a third famine warning is “on its way” to Somalia — a crucial turning point for response, they say — as governments from across East Africa and key partner countries meet for the Somalia Pledging Conference in London, United Kingdom, on 11 May.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the conference that Somalia would need a further $900 million in aid this year as famine looms in three East African nations — Somalia, South Sudan and northern Nigeria, as well as in Yemen — blamed by experts on the results of climate change and ongoing conflict.

Government officials assembled in the British capital to discuss the escalating security threat in the country. Somalia suffered a famine in 2011 that claimed the lives of 250,000 people and the UN issued another famine warning this February, saying that an “immediate and massive” response would be needed to avert it.

Amid funding shortfall, doubts over why UN links 4 food crises together

The United Nations has experienced a dangerously slow response to a $4.4 billion funding appeal to the food insecurity and famine crises that span Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Some development experts are now questioning the strategy of linking together four disparate emergencies.

Topics to be discussed at the conference — which is co-chaired by Somalia’s President Farmajo, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May — include the need to invest in Somalia’s military and in governance and state-building after a relatively smooth democratic presidential election earlier this year.

“The 2011 famine in Somalia killed a quarter of a million people. Children starved to death in front of their mothers while the international community hesitated. That cannot be allowed to happen again,” ActionAid’s head of humanitarian response, Mike Noyes, told Devex.

“Drought has pushed millions of Somalis to the brink of starvation. Women and girls are bearing the brunt of the crisis and face the threat of sexual violence as they walk miles to find food or water,” he said.

Already, $672 million was pledged in the run-up to the conference, in accordance with the World Humanitarian Summit’s Grand Bargain, says a report from the UN — but aid organizations say the amount is nowhere near enough to head off the coming crisis, with millions of people in need of food aid.

Earlier this year, the UN appealed for $4.4 billion to deal with the food crises in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen collectively, but has struggled to raise the funds.

“The previous famine in 2011 demonstrated that concerted humanitarian action should occur after the third formal warning. We now have the third warning on its way and the response has not yet reached the threshold required,” said Sara Pantuliano, managing director at the Overseas Development Institute, in a press statement.

“The recent democratic presidential election shows tremendous progress has been made in Somalia recently, but it is important that this conference helps solidify international commitments to help Somalis toward a more secure and stable future,” she said.

"It is essential to not just address the humanitarian crises, but to build resilience ... to create the conditions for those humanitarian crises not to be repeated."

— António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general

Speaking ahead of the conference — his first speech in the U.K. since he took up the role of U.N. Secretary General in January — António Guterres pointed to the need to address ongoing conflicts in order to cope with the increased threat of famine.

"This fragility that we see in so many countries in the world has been the cause of many conflicts," Guterres said at an event organised by Britain's United Nations Association.

"It is essential to not just address the humanitarian crises, but to build resilience — of populations, of regions and countries — to create the conditions for those humanitarian crises not to be repeated."

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.