Rome, May 15 (IANS/AKI): A devastating drought in Somalia could leave some 2.2 million people - almost 18 per cent of the population - facing severe hunger in July-September after poor harvests, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Wednesday.
The UN agency issued a special alert on Somalia, indicating that the number of hungry people in the country this year is expected to be 40 per cent higher than estimates made at the beginning of the year.
Worsening nutrition in the Horn of Africa country is also a major concern, according to the alert.
Acute malnutrition rates as well as the number of acutely malnourished children being admitted to therapeutic feeding centres have sharply increased in 2019, FAO said.
"Rains in April and early May can make or break Somalis' food security for the whole year as they are crucial for the country's main annual harvest in July, following the 'Gu' rainy season," said Mario Zappacosta, FAO Senior Economist and lead of the Global Information and Early Warning System.
"A significant lack of rains in April and early May has rendered dry and barren up to 85 per cent of the croplands in the country's breadbaskets, and according to the latest projections, food grown during the 'Gu' season is likely to be 50 per cent below average," Zappacosta added.
The latest projection is based on data gathered by FAO experts - including sophisticated analyses of rainfall, temperatures, water availability and vegetation health - that point to the worse drought in years. Some rains are expected in May, but these will be insufficient and arrive too late for crop and pasture recovery before the onset of the dry season, the UN agency said.
Poor rains since last October have also taken a heavy toll on herders and their livestock as vegetation has been drying up and water has been increasingly scarce.
Drought and early depletion of food stocks, compounded by declining employment opportunities and low wages for farmers, shortages of livestock products in pastoral areas as well as heightened conflict and less humanitarian assistance since early 2019 have all led to a sharp deterioration of the food security situation in the country, the UN agency said.
The FAO said it has a funding gap of about $115 million in Somalia and urgently needs donations to help it scale up its response to prevent a further deterioration in the already alarming humanitarian situation.
The agency said it aims to support 2 million drought-affected people this year by providing critical livelihood support such as cash assistance, quality seeds, tools, and other agricultural services.