Famine conditions have ended in war-torn Somalia six months after they were declared, but the situation remains dire with nearly a third of the population needing emergency support, the U.N. said on Friday.
“The United Nations declares an end to famine conditions in Somalia,” the U.N. Somalia Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the U.S. famine warning network, known as FEWS NET, said in a statement.
“The combination of the massive scale-up in humanitarian assistance and an exceptional harvest have helped to improve the humanitarian situation,” the statement added.
Three areas had been in famine: southern Somalia’s Middle Shabelle, in Afgoye ─ the world’s largest camp for displaced people ─ and inside camps in the anarchic capital Mogadishu.
However, those areas “have now improved to emergency level,” the U.N. said, while warning that the situation remains critical.
“The gains are fragile and will be reversed without continued support,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
“There are 1.7 million people in southern Somalia still in crisis. Millions of people still need food, clean water, shelter and other assistance to survive and the situation is expected to deteriorate in May,” Bowden added.
Much of southern Somalia is controlled by al-Qaeda linked Shebab fighters, who have imposed draconian restrictions on aid agencies wanting to support those struggling in the war-wracked region.
The hardline Shebab are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies, with Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopia’s army in the south and west, and the African Union troops in Mogadishu.
Famine was first declared in Somalia’s Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in July, but later spread to other areas. Three areas improved to emergency levels last November.
Famine implies that at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the U.N. definition.