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Somali leader urges help to avert famine

March 23, 2017 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Somalia’s president said Thursday that almost half his country’s people are facing acute food shortages and about 15 percent are facing famine, and he urged the world to help.

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed told the U.N. Security Council by video link from Mogadishu that Somalis are proud and resilient and would be the last to ask for help, but drought has spawned a humanitarian crisis that could threaten the country’s recent political and security gains.

The United Nations said Wednesday that the $864 million U.N. humanitarian appeal for Somalia is only 31 percent funded.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who visited Somalia last week and presided over the council meeting, said the country is facing its third famine in 25 years and over 6 million people — half the population — need help.

“We cannot forget that the last time Somalia was blighted by starvation, in 2011, no fewer than 260,000 people died,” he said. “The crisis also risks undermining the hard-won political and security progress that has been made.”

Mohamed’s inauguration as president in February was a key step toward establishing Somalia’s first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and attacks by the al-Shabab Islamic extremist group, along with famine, shattered the Horn of Africa country of some 12 million people.

Michael Keating, the U.N. envoy for Somalia, told the council the country “is experiencing a moment of both tragedy and hope” — tragedy because of the threat of famine and hope because the recent electoral process “has created momentum for fresh political engagement among Somalis.” This week’s announcement of a Cabinet with six women was the latest step forward, he said.

Keating said nearly 3 million Somalis, mainly women and children, “require immediate life-saving support,” but compared to 2011, “the scope for responding to the crisis is greater.”

He pointed to greater cellphone coverage, expanded money transfer options, and improved data and controls on financial and other resources.

President Mohamed, who recently declared the drought a national disaster, said he was “truly saddened” that some people were walking for miles in search of food and water, and many have fled to urban centers in search of support “which our government is desperately trying to provide with assistance of the international community.”

“Many people’s livelihood, especially livestock, have perished,” he said.

Mohamed said the humanitarian response is “challenging” in some places because of insecurity caused by al-Shabab.

But he said the extremist group “has been weakened substantially” by military action undertaken by Somali and African Union forces, and “we are determined to defeat al-Shabab.”

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The president asked the council to help rebuild the national army so it can take over security, and he called on members to work on a plan to lift the arms embargo against the country.

At a conference in London in May, Mohamed said the government will present a roadmap to achieve peace and promote jobs and investment — including educating and training farmers, future water engineers, and agriculture, livestock and technology experts to deal with droughts.

This is a better investment, the president said, “than dealing with cyclical humanitarian crises.”

Britain’s Johnson said the London conference will assess the response to the humanitarian emergency, accelerate progress on security and adopt a new partnership agreement between Somalia and the international community.

One issue crucial to Somalia’s long-term security, he said, is an agreement between the federal government and the country’s states “on how to share power and resources.”