The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is deeply concerned by today’s report by the Somalia Government’s Minister of Health, that indicates an estimated 43,000 excess deaths may have occurred in 2022 in Somalia due to the ongoing drought. It is feared that half of these deaths may have occurred among children under the age of 5. The report estimates that from January to June 2023, 135 people could  succumb to the drought each day if humanitarian response is not significantly increased. Somalia is in the midst of the lengthiest and most severe drought in its history. Following five consecutive poor rainy seasons, 8.3 million people – nearly half the population – require immediate humanitarian aid. 

Shashwat Saraf, IRC’s Regional Emergency Director of East Africa, said,

“Somalia, which has been struggling for years with conflict and violence, is on the verge of another famine - after the 2010-2012 crisis that claimed more than a quarter of a million lives, half of them children. The country is the second most vulnerable country to the effects of the climate crisis, according to the ND-Gain Index. Somalia also receives over 90% of its grain from Ukraine, which just this weekend and since the war in Ukraine has been caught in political limbo.

“The crisis in Somalia is far from over and is becoming more severe every day. Nearly 2 million children are at risk of malnutrition while at least 3.5 million livestock have died, destroying livelihoods, and reducing children’s access to milk and meat. Famine (IPC Phase 5) is still projected between April and June 2023 in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts of Bay region if more resources are not pumped towards the response. We need to invest in livelihoods, resilience, infrastructure development, climate adaptation and durable solutions to break the cycle of chronic and recurrent humanitarian crises in Somalia and ensure that those affected can adapt and thrive.

“These deaths are absolutely preventable. There are clear steps the UN can take immediately. For example, the UN must reenergise its High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine, prioritising countries at highest risk, which includes Somalia. The task force's membership should be expanded to include international financial institutions, local and international NGOs, leading and emerging donors, and engage closely with affected states and populations each year. The task force should focus on unlocking the political will to respond to a famine risk, mobilising investments at scale to respond to early warning systems, and coordinating collective action across the international community. In addition to coordinating the global response, the task force should mobilise a donor pledging conference on famine risk. 

“Donors, UN agencies and humanitarian actors must line up behind a national effort to extend lifesaving malnutrition treatment to every child in need. Globally, sixty million children under 5 are experiencing acute malnutrition and two million children die each year. In Somalia specifically, half of all children are suffering acute malnutrition. Treatment with a fortified peanut paste, known as ready-to-use therapeutic food, allows the great majority of acutely malnourished children to recover in a matter of weeks. 

“This lifesaving treatment does not reach 80% of the children in need due to an overly complex and clinical approach to treatment and lack of sustained funding. The IRC has proven innovations to deliver this solution at scale, increasing the number of children treated and lives saved at the same cost as the current approach. Over the past decade, the IRC has developed a simplified treatment protocol, using a single product and simplified diagnosis and dosing, that can be delivered by community health workers. This approach eliminates the unnecessary duplication, division and complexity that impede the reach of the prevailing treatment protocol. IRC data shows simplified approaches use 30% less treatment product and cost up to 20% less per severely malnourished child treated. We know our solution works, even in the most challenging settings. A recent, largest of its kind study, conducted by the IRC in partnership with the Mali Ministry of Health treated more than 27,000 children with the simplified protocol and saw recovery rates over 90%.”

The IRC's work in Somalia

The IRC has been operational in Somalia since 1981, where it currently supports communities in Galmudug, Southwest, and Puntland states, as well as in the Banadir (Mogadishu) region. Since March 2022, IRC has scaled up its emergency response activities to 10 Districts in 4 States to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, and we are expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.

The IRC has focused its support on the following sectors: health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), economic recovery and development (ERD), women’s protection and empowerment. As of December 2022, we have reached almost half a million drought affected people in Somalia. 

East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programs globally, with operations in Somalia for over 40 years, Kenya for 30 years and Ethiopia for 20 years. Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs