Somaliland is “marching toward starvation” as food is weaponized by war

When Fahima scraped together $10 for a ride to the health clinic, her youngest son shrank. At 16 months old, Bilar weighed just 10 pounds when he was admitted to the whitewashed children’s ward – less than half the average for a boy his age.

His whole demeanor has changed,” said Fahima, not her real name, in Somaliland, an autonomous region in northern Somalia.

“He was friendly and loved to play. Now you can see he has nothing left.”

“In the last two months food has gotten so much more expensive, the price of rice has doubled,” she added, flicking a fly off Bilar’s head.

“Because of the increased costs, we are forced to buy less. I struggle to secure enough food for my children.”

The consequences could have been deadly for Bilar. He is now being treated for severe malnutrition – but many children are worse off.

The two are among 15 million people suffering from acute hunger or starvation in the Horn of Africa amid a food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and a major drought.

Save the Children and Oxfam estimate that a child dies in the region every 48 seconds.

Somalia is facing the worst – 81,000 people are already starving and the United Nations has warned that if urgent action is not taken, 350,000 children will die in the country by the summer.

“The situation is getting worse every day,” says Mohamud Mohamed Hassan, director of Save the Children Somalia.

“The war in Ukraine has dealt a blow to an already dangerous situation for families and children… The result is inflated market prices and prohibitive food and fuel prices.”

The Horn of Africa is heavily dependent on imports of grain and sunflower oil — vital staples that are stuck in Ukraine because of a Russian blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa.

The Russian army has also been accused of destroying equipment and stealing grain in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine account for about a quarter of world wheat exports, and the West fears Putin is trying to weaponize the food supply as 25 million tons of grain are currently rotting in silos due to the Moscow naval blockade.

In Somalia, around 90 percent of wheat imports typically come from Russia and Ukraine. The World Food Program (WFP) warns that along with Ethiopia and Kenya, the country “is likely to be hardest hit by shocks to the global wheat trade”.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in food prices this year that we didn’t expect,” says Abdul Risaac, the mayor of Burao — a small town in the heart of Somaliland, a de facto state internationally considered part of Somalia. “In some places, food prices are five times higher than before the conflict in Ukraine,” he adds.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation we’re in.”

Adding to rising food costs are the worst drought in 40 years and pandemic-related economic disruption.

It’s a situation that is expected to get worse and there are few signs of an end to rising global prices.

According to some estimates, the world has just 10 weeks’ supply of wheat left, while India – the second-largest producer – has suspended exports amid fears extreme temperatures could wipe out up to 15 percent of this year’s harvest.

Meanwhile, the Horn of Africa’s rainy season, which lasts between April and June, has brought little rain, raising the very real prospect of a fourth consecutive failed season.

Without action, WFP estimates that an additional five million people will be “marching to starvation” by the end of the year, bringing the total number of people at risk of food insecurity to 20 million.

“It’s a really bad situation,” says Lizzie Walker, head of the UK government office in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. “It looks worse than [the famine in] 2011.”

But while a swift response during Somalia’s 2016-17 drought averted a famine on the scale of 2011 – when 260,000 people died – aid is unlikely to match the scale of the current crisis.

For Fahima, who sits cross-legged on the tiled floor of the health clinic, there is little to do but pray.

“Of course I’m worried. I feel helpless…I don’t have a stable way to get food,” she says. “But, God willing, we will survive.”

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022) Somaliland is “marching toward starvation” as food is weaponized by war

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