Last week, a report released by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimated that the number of people who died during the 2011 Somalia famine was much higher than initially anticipated at almost 260,000. Shadow Minister for International Development, Rushanara Ali, has urged the need for the UK Government to ensure that warnings for similar humanitarian crises are responded to much earlier and faster in order to avert the huge loss of life witnessed during the recent East Africa famine.
“This study has highlighted the shocking reality and the immense impact this famine has had on Somalia and its people - the worst drought to have hit East Africa in a quarter of a century affecting 13 million people. With almost half of the estimated 260,000 people who had died being children below the age of 5, it is deeply concerning that the international community - who had dealt with a similar crisis in the "the long tailed" mid-1970s drought - failed to act fast and could have saved the lives of thousands of people in Somalia during this famine.
"Somalia's politics has played a major role in exacerbating the countries droughts and there is a real concern that early interventions for such crises are being made avoidable for this reason. This report suggests that the early warning signals should have been acted on instantaneously by western donors but action was only taken once the famine had been officially declared and at that point thousands were already suffering and the crisis could sadly no longer be averted.
"Reacting to a humanitarian crisis early to avert the deaths of thousands is paramount for Somalia's future. The UK Government now has the opportunity to outline its agenda in the Somali Conference today. What the UK Government must take away from this study, is the importance of the UK's commitment to continue providing 0.7% of aid in international development - a commitment that cannot be turned back on and must be enshrined in law. The UK Government must also ensure that it is engaging with its counterparts in the Somali government so that aid is reaching those in need and that future early warning systems are acted on immediately."
Last year, Rushanara visited East Africa where she witnessed first-hand the work of NGOs on the ground assisting those struggling to cope with the impact of climate change that have destroyed their traditionally nomadic way of life.