By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Somalia risks slipping back into famine, the United Nations, said on Tuesday, as worsening drought has left millions without food, water or healthcare in a country crippled by decades of war.
Five million Somalis, or more than four out of 10 people, do not have enough to eat because of poor rains and fighting between the Islamist militant group al Shabaab and Somalia's African Union-backed government.
Famine last struck pockets of Somalia in 2011, killing 260,000 people. It was caused by drought, conflict and a ban on food aid in territory held by al Shabaab.
"The humanitarian situation remains grim for millions of Somalis," the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, said in a statement.
"We are faced with a slight but steady increase in the number of people in need, and most recently with a significant risk of further deterioration to famine."
Both of Somalia's 2016 rainy seasons were below average and the April to June 2017 Gu rains are predicted to be poor, the U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) said.
"Urgent action to ramp up assistance provision and ensure adequate humanitarian access is needed to address rising levels of food insecurity and mitigate the potential for large-scale loss of life," it said.
In the south, the regions of Bay and Bakool are the most worrying, as poor households have had little to no harvest, own few livestock and rely on wage labor, which declines quickly during severe droughts, it said.
Hunger is particularly acute among Somalia's 1.1 million internally displaced people, who are extremely poor after being forced by conflict and drought to flee multiple times.
Some 320,000 children under the five are acutely malnourished with 50,000 of these severely malnourished, meaning they risk dying without emergency intervention.
"Immediate support is required to prevent a significant deterioration of the humanitarian situation," de Clercq said, appealing for $864 million to provide emergency aid to 3.9 million people.
"Early action is the only way to demonstrate that we have learnt the lessons from the past to avert another catastrophe."
(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)