The UN has officially declared a famine in Somalia. The UN will declare a state of famine based on the following criteria,
“Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).”
Famine has only been officially declared by the UN six times since 1984; in Ethiopia in 1984-85, in Somalia in 1991-92, in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1996, in Ethiopia in 2000, in southern Sudan in 2008, and the most recent one in Somalia.
Many Americans remember Somalia only for the Battle of Mogadishu where Somali rebels shot down a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter and paraded the body of a dead soldier through the streets. It remains a land of violence and warlords. Despite the famine, al-Shabaab, an extremist group with links to al-Qaeda and who is in control of several parts of Somalia, has essentially blockaded the country and prevented the free flow of humanitarian supplies since last year. Only recently have the group let up their ban on outside assistance and allowed some shipments of aid through. The people of Somalia however, have continued to persevere in the face of daily struggles quite literally between life and death.
The famine has also created a humanitarian crisis beyond the Somali borders. The World Food Program (WFP) has estimated that there are some 2.2 million Somalis displaced by the famine. Clearly not all of them choose to stay in Somalia. the go where there is help and food available. This is putting enormous strain on other countries in the region, countries that are themselves the victims of famine and drought. There have been reports that one refugee camp grew to 20,000 people in under 10 days.
To help out, visit the WFP website or check out your favorite charity.
One final note, Free Rice is a great site that makes a donation to the WFP for every word that you correctly define. Got a few minutes? Give it a try. You can even create a profile to track your lifetime totals.