Famine prevention and cholera top priorities for UN chief on Somalia visit

Fatuma (middle) came to ‪Mogadishu with her four children from Toro-Toro, 100 km away, because of a lack of water and food (UN Photo)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has arrived in the Somali capital Mogadishu on a visit aimed at bolstering anti-famine efforts and cholera prevention related to a severe drought.

Writing on the social media site Twitter after his arrival he said, “Just arrived in Somalia on emergency visit to focus on famine and cholera.”

“People are dying. The world must act now to stop this.” The UN leader has been urging massive international support to avert a crisis.

Upon arrival the UN chief met with Somalia’s newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. “I am bringing a message of solidarity to the president. A message of support,” said Guterres. “Let’s hope he can start an inclusive government.”

C6TNiGdWAAElhJvThe drought in Somalia has created not only near-famine conditions in some areas but also led to outbreak of cholera. This is because communities are forced to rely on buying water if their water sources are depleted, or, if they are unable to afford it, they turn to unsafe sources.

The UN humanitarian office in Somalia reported on March 5th that a total of 7,909 case of acute watery diarrhea and cholera were reported this year in 11 regions with 196 deaths.

The epidemic is particularly bad in Al-Shabaab controlled areas of Bay and Bakool regions where international aid groups are unable to work. “In these inaccessible areas, the disease is 4.5 times more deadly compared to accessible areas where water, sanitation and health services have been provided to the affected communities,” the UN office reported.

Successful humanitarian interventions have been mounted in Lower Jubba, Banadir and Bay regions to stem the cholera epidemic.

Stephen O’Brien, the UN aid chief says that famine is a now a “clear and present risk” in Somalia. The last declared famine in the country took place in 2011. An estimated 260,000 people died during that famine, according to a study by the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net).