The UN says the famine that struck parts of Somalia last year is officially over. However it warns that conditions remain fragile and could worsen again. Millions of people are still in need of food and shelter.
Somalis can now hope that life will get a bit easier
Thanks to a bumper harvest following good rains as well as food deliveries from aid agencies, the United Nations has now declared the famine in Somalia to be officially over.
Famine was declared in two parts of southern Somalia last July, and the warning was extended two months later to cover six out of eight regions in the Horn of Africa country.
Mark Bowden, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said the gains were fragile and could be reversed without continued support. "There are 1.7 million people in southern Somalia still in crisis," he said. "Millions of people still need food, clean water, shelter and other assistance to survive and the situation is expected to deteriorate in May," he warned.
Under the UN definition of famine, at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of the population and two deaths per 10,000 people every day.
The FAO's Jose Graziano da Silva warns that the crisis is not over
Violence prevents urgently needed aid
Aid deliveries to some 180,000 people in camps in the capital Mogadishu have improved the situation there, but violence in central and southern Somalia is hindering food deliveries.
The UN said the latest harvest in Somalia was double the average of the last 17 years, and this had lowered food prices.
Government forces have been fighting Islamist rebels for the past five years, while Kenyan and Ethiopian forces both moved into the country last year to help fight al-Shabab militants.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and at the same time one of the regions that needs them most. In early February al-Shabab announced it was banning the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), accusing it of distributing food that had passed its expiry date.
Aid will still be needed in Somalia for some time to come
No cause for complacency
According to Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the crisis is not over. "It can only be resolved with a combination of rains and continued, coordinated long-term actions that link relief with development."
Senait Gebregziabher, the head of Oxfam in Somalia, was also concerned that the international community should not overestimate the significance of the UN's statement.
"The world shouldn't turn its back on Somalia, solely because statistics say there is no longer a famine," she said.
Author: Susan Houlton (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Daniel Pelz / rm