Written Testimony by Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy E. Lindborg, before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights and Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chairman Smith, Chairman Royce, Ranking Members Payne and Sherman, and distinguished members of the Committees, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today on the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. I will give you a brief update on the current situation and the U.S. government's efforts to help the more than 2.85 million people in need in Somalia, despite significant challenges on the ground.

Some of the world's most comprehensive early warning systems are present in the Horn of Africa to provide constant monitoring of food security conditions throughout the region. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) maintain a strong presence in the region and enable the humanitarian community to identify conditions based on an extensive analysis of historical and current rainfall, cropping patterns, livestock health, market prices and malnutrition rates. USAID is one of the largest supporters of these vital early warning systems, and we rely on their information to provide appropriate assistance to those who need it most and to target assistance that might be needed in the future.

FEWS NET's early warning of the pending crisis in the Horn of Africa began in August 2010, allowing USAID to make sizeable, early food aid contributions and scale up emergency programs to meet the increasing needs in the region. I want to emphasize that although we are focused today on Somalis, this is truly a regional crises as the countries of the Horn are deeply connected in an arc of drought, crop failure, and livestock mortality. This crisis is further complicated by the continuing conflict in Somalia and the resulting outpouring of Somali refugees into drought stressed regions of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, as will be discussed by Reuben Brigety, my State/PRM colleague.

Current Situation

According to FEWS NET, the drought currently plaguing the region is considered to be the worst in the Horn of Africa since the 1950s. This is a region long plagued by cyclical drought, but what used to be a ten-year cycle is now occurring every other year. In Somalia, the combined effects of consecutive seasons of failed or poor rainfall coupled with conflict, have resulted in rising inflation, crop failure, livestock mortality, population displacement, food insecurity, and significant acute malnutrition rates in Somalia.

In January 2011, FSNAU estimated that 2.4 million people in Somalia were in crisis. Their latest data indicate there are at least 2.85 million people in Somalia in need of life-saving assistance, a 19 percent increase in six months. That means that, of the estimated 9.9 million people living in Somalia, one in four is now in need of international aid to survive.

In May, I traveled to Kenya and Somalia to ensure we were able to respond as fully and responsibly as possible to this growing crisis and express the commitment of the United States to the people of Somalia during this critical period.

Ambassador John Yates and I traveled to Hargeisa in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, where we met with President, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, the Minister of Planning, Mr. Saad Shire, as well as United Nations (UN) officials and local and international nongovernmental organizations.

With 3.5 million citizens and an economy based largely on livestock, the drought is deeply affecting the people in this region. President Silanyo expressed his concern over the failed rains, the loss of livestock and need for humanitarian assistance, while also thanking the U.S. Government for its important support.

Somaliland is also struggling with the large numbers of Somalis displaced from the south by the intolerable combination of drought and conflict, drawn by the stability it offers in a region of turbulence. I spoke with a civil society leader in Somaliland who noted, "We are seeing the end of the pastoral lifestyle as we know it." The nomadic pastoral lifestyle relies on livestock for food and income and continual migration to find water and pasture for the herd. With drought and conflict, the nomads are without water and pasture and unable to migrate safely. Many of them are left without assets or income, and many of them are young. As they migrate out of the south, they are attracted to the urban areas of the north, adding strain to an already stressed situation. This is a problem throughout Somalia, where there are now approximately 1.46 million internally displaced people, with concentrations in Mogadishu and the regions of Shabelle Hoose and Galgaduud and increasing numbers in Puntland and Somaliland.

The impact of the drought on the people in the eastern Horn of Africa is most dramatically illustrated by the state of Somali refugees arriving in Kenya and Ethiopia. To get a more complete picture of the situation, I also visited the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. Many Somalis are leaving their homeland in search of food, water and shelter, adding to an existing refugee population and straining resources in drought stressed areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. The total regional refugee population is now more than 750,000.

Twenty years ago, Dadaab was constructed for 90,000 people. Today it is home to over 370,000 refugees, 95 percent of whom are Somali. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports 9,000-10,000 new arrivals in Dadaab each month since January 2011. But in just the last two weeks, UNHCR reports some 20,000 new arrivals from Somalia. In 2011 alone, Dadaab has grown by over 66,000 refugees.

I talked with several families who had lost all their livestock or sold their land, and with no remaining assets, began the long walk to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya for help. Along with thousands of others, they walked to the border, often for weeks or even months through areas with increasing reports of roadblocks and landmines. By the time they arrive, many - particularly children - suffer from moderate to acute malnutrition and are in dire need of life-saving assistance that is inaccessible in many parts of southern and central Somalia. Many of the children arrive with malnutrition rates well above the emergency threshold.

In Dadaab, we are now seeing Somali refugee populations arriving with global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates of 30 to 40 percent. This is more than double the World Health Organization's emergency threshold number of 15 percent. And we are seeing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) rates at 23 percent in Dadaab arrivals, which is seven or more times higher than the 2 to 3 percent considered alarming.

Even more alarming is the fact that more children reportedly died in therapeutic feeding centers in Dadaab during the first three months of 2011 than in all of 2010. And this is not due to a lack of supplies or adequate treatment once in a therapeutic feeding center. This is because many children are now so severely malnourished when they arrive at the treatment centers that there isn't anything the centers can do to save them.

Ethiopia is also seeing an increase in Somali refugees as well. The latest malnutrition data on arrivals in Boqolmayo refugee camp is 47 percent global acute malnutrition (GAM), which is 213 percent higher than emergency thresholds. And at 23 percent, the rate of severe acute malnutrition is 1,100 percent higher than the levels that cause the humanitarian community to sound the alarm bells.

Let me make the data simpler to remember. One out of every two Somalis now arriving in Ethiopia is acutely malnourished, and one out of three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.

Challenges to Providing Humanitarian Assistance

As noted earlier, we have been prepositioning supplies in the region since FEWS NET began warning of the crisis in August 2010. However, in Somalia, significant challenges exist in successfully providing humanitarian assistance in south-central Somalia, primarily due to the presence of armed groups, especially al-Shabaab which is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.

General insecurity and lawlessness prevents aid workers from reliably reaching more than 60 percent of the people in Somalia who need life-saving assistance, primarily in the south. In January 2010, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) suspended operations in southern Somalia because of threats and unacceptable conditions created by armed groups, in particular al-Shabaab. Many other international and nongovernmental organizations also are unable to operate in southern Somalia due to the safety and security risks. The lack of access has created a severe unabated humanitarian crisis in southern Somalia and has contributed to the significant outflow of refugees into the region.

In order to deliver assistance to these areas, where possible, we have developed a risk mitigation strategy to enable us to provide assistance to the Somali people with an emphasis on assuring our assistance reaches those most in need. We have put into place basic risk mitigation procedures, risk-based assessments, and special conditions for our grant agreements. We continue to work to ensure our programs in Somalia are appropriately and accountably managed and monitored.

U.S. Government Assistance for the Somali People

Based on these risk reduction measures, the United States has provided more than $48 million in humanitarian assistance in Somalia in fiscal year 2011 to date. This includes food aid and $2.5 million in other humanitarian assistance specifically for the needs of an estimated 360,000 people in Somaliland and Puntland.

U.S. assistance helps feed 1.2 million people in accessible areas of Somalia and treat tens of thousands of severely malnourished Somalis countrywide. Our assistance also provides health care, clean water, proper sanitation, and hygiene education and supplies. The United States also works to improve long-term opportunities for Somali communities, especially youth and women.

We continue to identify additional opportunities to meet the growing needs in Somalia. Just last week, USAID released 19,000 metric tons of food aid from its regionally prepositioned stocks to support general food distribution, supplementary feeding, food for work, emergency school feeding, mother and child feeding, and institutional feeding programs in Somalia.

To help Somali refugees forced to flee their country, the United States has provided over $76 million in life-saving assistance, including more than $60 million in food assistance from USAID.

Our emergency assistance works in coordination with our ongoing development program in Somalia, with a proposed fiscal year 2011 level of approximately $21 million. For disaffected youth who lack hope and opportunities, the lure of armed violence and extremism is strong. To help stem the tide in the wake of this dire humanitarian crisis, USAID development programs are building economic and political stability, supporting peace building, strengthening government institutions, and increasing livelihood and business opportunities.

Looking Ahead

This severe drought affects more than just Somalia. In the eastern Horn of Africa, more than 10 million people are in need of emergency assistance in the wake of this drought. Emergency levels of acute malnutrition are widespread, and we are deeply concerned that we are growing closer to a very dangerous situation across the Horn.

Our experts at FEWS NET and FSNAU have studied the most recent data they have collected, and they expect the perilous situation in the Horn of Africa to worsen through the end of the year. Given limited labor opportunities, the dwindling food stocks, and sky-high cereal prices, many households cannot put food on the table right now.

The main rainy season in Somalia, referred to as the Gu, lasts from April to June. The harvest after the Gu is the main harvest season in Somalia. This year, the initial assessments find that the Gu harvest in the southern region of Lower Shabelle will be a failure, and the harvest will be well below normal in the neighboring region of Bay. In a normal Gu season, these regions account for 71 percent of the total cereal production of southern Somalia. With food stocks and supplies continuing to decrease, the number of households that can no longer meet their food needs will only increase in the weeks and months to come.

As unfortunate as it may be, we do expect the situation in Somalia to continue to decline. Famine conditions are possible in the worst affected areas depending on the evolution of food prices, conflict, and humanitarian response.

The United States will continue to stand by the people of Somalia who have suffered so greatly for so long. The United States - along with the international community - will continue to look for additional ways to provide aid to those in Somalia while providing for those forced to flee Somalia in search of assistance.

Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.

Subject 
Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia
Chamber 
House
Committee 
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights; Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade; Committee on Foreign Affairs

Last updated: December 04, 2013

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