The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Abu-Dhabi, in cooperation with the International Humanitarian City in Dubai, held a press briefing session to update the media on the humanitarian situation in Somalia.

The media session was conducted by Bruno Geddo, UNHCR Representative in Somalia, who spoke about the ongoing famine emergency response to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

“Somali people are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.” said Geddo in his opening remarks. “One in three Somalis is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and one in every three children living in the South-Central region is malnourished.”

Generating the third highest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq, today 1.5 million internally displaced Somalis are fighting for their lives against famine.

“Although the numbers of people facing famine went down from 750,000 to 250,000 due to the massive injection of assistance since August, we cannot afford to lower the guard.” Said Geddo.

Somalia is the country in the horn of Africa that is most affected by the ongoing drought, widely regarded as the worst in 60 years. Consecutive seasonal rain shortages have lead to sky-rocketing food prices, in a country already devastated by two decades of war.

An estimated 3.7 million Somalis are now in urgent need of life-saving assistance. Increasingly, Somalis are leaving their homes, walking thousands of kilometers in search of food, most of them ending up in internally displaced person (IDP) settlements within Somalia and refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, in extremely malnourished conditions.

UNHCR has its largest global stockpile of emergency relief in Dubai at the International Humanitarian City, with which the agency has a very close cooperation under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and that of IHC Chairperson Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, UN Messenger for Peace.

“The International Humanitarian City is a leading global humanitarian logistics hub that connects East and West, empowering its partners to create lasting change in the lives of people in need. In response to the Somali humanitarian crisis, in 2010 and 2011, the IHC facilitated the dispatch of over 20 shipments to Somalia with a value exceeding 6 million Dirhams, all from the Dubai warehouses of its UN members.” said Her Excellency Shaima Al Zarooni, IHC Chief Executive Officer.

Famine was declared in Somalia last July. As the crisis heightened, UNCHR appealed for 145 million dollars in financial assistance in order to be able to meet the needs of Somali refugees and IDPs increasing daily by the thousands. UNHCR has met only 28% of its funding needs for this ongoing crisis as donor support stood at 18.6 million dollars out of 67 million for requirements which are based on needs-assessment in the country. Later in January 2012, UNHCR is launching a special appeal for Somalia, to fund a regional response by UNHCR.

“We hope that our capacity to deliver will persevere. We are mostly able to work despite the security risks. The more we are able to reach IDP’s inside Somalia, the more we will be able to mitigate the flow of refugees into neighboring countries.” said Geddo.

“It will take two rainy seasons and two full agricultural cycles for the Somalia food market to function again. Until August 2012, we will not be able to know whether the famine will be declared a thing of the past. We have to be able to sustain the current pace of aid for the next 8 months and we therefore appeal to donors to continue to support us through this ongoing effort.” concluded Geddo.

On Monday the 19th of December, the UNHCR office in Abu Dhabi also conducted a similar briefing session in cooperation with the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR). The meeting, also featuring a presentation by the UNHCR Representative in Somalia, was attended by some 60 members of the UAE donor community from government and private sectors, as well as diplomats, stakeholder agencies and humanitarian partners in the UAE.

During the meeting, Brigitte Khair Mountain, Head of the UNHCR office in Abu Dhabi lauded the humanitarian support that the UAE has contributed to Somalia via its lead national agencies, which reached up to 50 million Dirhams since the beginning of the crisis. She expressed her hope that this meeting also provides a case for support for the United Nations’ emergency response and life-saving humanitarian assistance in the field, and she encouraged increased donor support for UNHCR’s field operations in Somalia.