NAIROBI, AFRICA and ROME, ITALY — Famine in Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months and could grow even worse unless urgent action is taken, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on July 20. FAO has appealed for $120 million for response to the drought in the Horn of Africa to provide agricultural emergency assistance.

“Hundreds of people are dying every day and if we do not act now many more will perish," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "We must avert a human tragedy of vast proportions. And much as food assistance is needed now, we also have to scale up investments in sustainable immediate and medium-term interventions that help farmers and their families to protect their assets and continue to produce food.”

In a special report the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network officially declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

The report warns that in the next one or two months famine will become widespread throughout southern Somalia.

Together with ongoing crises in the rest of the country, the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 million to 3.7 million in the last 6 months. Altogether, around 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently in need of emergency assistance.

An international emergency meeting will be held in Rome on July 25, to address the escalating crisis in the Horn of Africa and mobilize international support. The French government, holding the G20 presidency, requested FAO to organize the High-Level Ministerial Meeting, to which FAO's 191 member countries, UN agencies, international organizations, development banks and non-governmental organizations have been invited.

Right before the meeting, from July 22 to 24, the director-general of FAO will travel to Nairobi with the French minister for agriculture and the executive director of the World Food Programme.

Famine is classified using a tool called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification with three main criteria: severe lack of food access for large populations, acute malnutrition rates exceeding 30% of the population and crude death rate exceeding two people per 10,000 population per day.

Currently in some parts of Bakool and Lower Shabelle acute malnutrition tops 50% and death rates exceed six per 10,000 population per day.

In order to address the current crisis in Somalia, FAO is appealing for $70 million for the country to provide interventions including cash-for-work activities, provision of farm inputs and livestock emergency health services.

A rare combination of conflict and insecurity, limited access for humanitarian organizations, successive harvest failures and a lack of food assistance has jeopardized an entire population in southern Somalia. The country has suffered war on and off since 1991.

FAO has been helping Somali farmers and herders with farm inputs and livestock health services. But drought due to successive poor rain seasons has curtailed food production and wiped out livestock assets.

"We need to immediately support farmers with seeds, tools and access to water and herders with fodder and emergency treatment to avoid further displacement and starvation," said Luca Alinovi FAO's officer in charge for Somalia.

The current crisis affects the whole Horn of Africa region including the northern part of Kenya and southern parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Karamoja Region of Uganda where large areas are classified as in a state of humanitarian emergency.

To address the regional crisis FAO is calling for an additional $120 million for the Horn of Africa including $70 million for Somalia and $50 million for Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda. In this scenario it is important not to forget the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan for which FAO appealed for $37 million.

"We need to not lose sight that there is a tiny window of opportunity to prevent massive deaths and destitution," said Rod Charters, FAO regional emergency coordinator for Eastern Africa. "Currently in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, 7.9 million people are in need of urgent emergency assistance. Support through agriculture and livestock not only provides essential food but an income for families and we need to give people affected by the drought the chance to rebuild their lives.”