What is famine?
Famine has a technical definition based on food security and nutrition. In order for a famine to be declared, there must be evidence of the following three conditions:
1. At least 20 percent of the population has fewer than 2,100 calories of food a day;
2. Prevalence acute malnutrition must exceed 30 percent of children; and
3. The death rate must exceed two deaths per 10,000 people, or four child deaths per 10,000 people per day.
Tragically, all three of these conditions have been found in southern Somalia. The average daily caloric need is 2,100; therefore, eating fewer than 2,100 calories often results in hunger. Measuring malnutrition differs from measuring caloric need. Malnutrition occurs when a person does not eat food that provides the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals to meet daily needs. Finally, the death rate in some areas is as high as six deaths per 10,000 people with children especially vulnerable. UNICEF has estimated that as many as 14 children are dying every hour in parts of southern Somalia.
Famine in Somalia
In order to determine whether the conditions in Somalia meet the definition of famine, United Nations (UN) agencies and NGO partners conducted nutritional and livelihood surveys. The surveys found evidence of famine-level mortality, malnutrition, and substantial constraints to food access in the regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Additionally, 3.7 million people, or more than a third of Somalia’s population, are now in crisis with millions more suffering from drought throughout the Horn.
One of the ways in which malnutrition in children is measured is with a color-coded plastic strip. If a measurement is in the green zone then the child is properly nourished, if in the yellow zone then the child is at risk of malnutrition, and if the measurement is in the red zone then the child is acutely malnourished. The photo to the right shows a health worker measuring a child in Madagascar.
Additionally, as shown in a map by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, food security conditions throughout the Horn of Africa are at crisis and emergency levels.his food insecurity is, in part, the result of two consecutive seasons of very poor rainfall, leading to the region’s worst drought in 60 years.
Photo from: FEWSNET – East Africa
Last week, on July 20, the World Food Program (WFP) declared the Horn of Africa crisis the highest global humanitarian priority and has rapidly been scaling up its operations in the Horn in order to reach the 11.3 million people in need of food assistance. WFP’s emergency relief is focused on supplementary food products for the groups most vulnerable to malnutrition, children and pregnant or nursing mothers. Furthermore, WFP is working to find ways to deliver humanitarian assistance to the approximately 2 million people who are currently inaccessible living in southern Somalia.