07/28/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2014

Warning Signs of Another Famine, Lessons to Be Learned From the Past


Three years ago, on July 20, the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia. The devastating famine took the lives of a quarter of million Somalis, half of them children under the age of five. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called it "the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world today -- and the worst East Africa has seen in decades."

Without urgent aid the future of those who've survived remains bleak. Recently, in a joint NGO statement, including Oxfam and International Rescue Committee, it was reported that out of the required $933 million, only 12 percent of Somalia's annual humanitarian needs had been funded.

The current figures are staggering:

  • 50,000 children are severely malnourished;
  • Only 30 percent of the population has access to clean water;
  • 1.1 million people are displaced in their own country;
  • There is a risk of outbreak and spread of Polio;
  • Women in Somalia face the second-highest risk of maternal death in the world, and babies are at the highest risk of dying on the day of their birth.

In the statement, aid agencies warn, again, that signs of drought are reemerging in Southern-Somalia regions. As we seen from the 2011 famine, it spreads like wildfire to other regions. Unfortunately, with the proper funding, the 2011 famine could have been avoided. Aid workers urge that we act now. The delayed response in 2011 cost the lives of thousands of people.

Generally, donors wait until a famine is actually declared, and so humanitarian agencies wait until the UN declares a famine. However, the UN does not declare a famine until acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities. We need to establish a long-lasting solution to solve the famine and food crisis. We've seen that tactic of waiting for famine to be declared fail. It failed 260,000 men, women and children.

After the famine of 2011, Oxfam's Chief Executive, Barbara Stocking stated, "We all bear responsibility for this dangerous delay that cost lives in East Africa and need to learn the lessons of the late response."

Fifty-two aid agencies in Somalia warn that Somalia is at risk of another famine. In their statement they reported that conflict (Al-Shebab militants) and low rainfall could trigger another famine.

Now, without proper funding, 2.9 million lives are at risk of dying, displacement and catching infectious diseases. The United Nations cannot idly stand by and allow another humanitarian catastrophe to occur as they wait for the criteria for famine to met. They must swiftly respond to the urgent call of the fifty-two aid workers.

Somali children should not have to measure their lives by the number of famines they've survived.