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The 2011 Famine in Somalia: Lessons learnt from a failed response?

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Background: Famine early warning systems clearly identified the risk of famine in South Central Somalia in 2010-2011 but timely action to prevent the onset of famine was not taken. The result was large scale mortality, morbidity, and population displacement. Discussion. The main factor that turned a drought-related food crisis into a famine was the war that afflicted southern Somalia and the tactics adopted by the various belligerents. These included non-state actors, regional, and international governments. In disasters and complex emergencies, such as this, we posit that five conditions need to be in place to enable humanitarian agencies to provide a timely response to early warnings of famine. These are: presence; access; adequate funding; operational capacity; and legal protection for humanitarian action. In the run up to the Somalia famine each of these presented severe challenges to humanitarian action. The design of the current coordination and funding system contributed to the problems of achieving a neutral, independent, and effective humanitarian response. Summary. The 2011 famine in Somalia was predicted and could have been mitigated or prevented if the humanitarian response had been timely and more effective. To improve responsiveness to early warnings, action is required to better insulate the humanitarian system from political agendas. While overcoming constraints, such as lack of access, may sometimes be beyond the scope of humanitarian actors, more could be done to enhance the perceived neutrality of parts of the humanitarian system. This should include a reappraisal of the cluster coordination system and reforms to donor funding mechanisms. © 2013 Seal and Bailey; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Seal, A., & Bailey, R. (2013). The 2011 Famine in Somalia: Lessons learnt from a failed response? Conflict and Health, 7(1).

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