A fourth straight failed rainy season and skyrocketing prices have exacerbated the biting drought in Somalia and left the country facing food insecurity, malnutrition and famine, UN agencies warned on Monday. The number of people “facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, starvation and disease” has surged by 160%, the World Food Program (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) jointly said.

According to the statement, a multiagency assessment found that 7.1 million people, or nearly half of Somalia’s population, face “crisis-level food insecurity or worse through at least September this year.” Among these are 213,000 people at immediate risk of “catastrophic hunger and starvation, a drastic increase from the 81,000 forecast in April,” the statement said. Adam Abdelmoula, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the country said “an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season” is a real possibility, warning that it will leave thousands of people at heightened risk of famine.

He added that famine cost the lives of 260,000 Somalis in 2010-2011, hence it is urgent that more is done now to avert the risk. As Somalia grapples with one of its worst droughts in some 40 years, the UN said earlier this month that around 330,000 children across the country could die of starvation. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected and took office just last month, has also appealed for help from the international community.

Climate change in the Horn of Africa has traditionally been one of the biggest contributors to human population displacement. As the world witnesses increased climate instability, the rising human, social and economic costs are bringing back to the fore pre-existing challenges that many countries are saddled with. Set within that context, Somalia is hardly unique. Besides drought, violent conflict, instability from terror group Al Shabaab, a fractious political history and the conflict in eastern Europe have exacerbated a dire humanitarian situation which has worsened food security and restricted the supply of aid to those who need it.

These conditions are expected to persist well into early 2023. Domestic food prices were already rising sharply due to drought-induced livestock deaths and poor harvests; they soared following the crisis in Ukraine. In June, the average cost for a household to meet its basic food needs reached its highest in five years. In May, the new Somali government and the International Monetary Fund,  IMF,  reached a staff-level agreement on the second and third reviews of the country’s economic program supported by an Extended Credit Facility (ECF). The lender had earlier threatened to suspend its in-country programmes if elections did not go ahead as scheduled.

The new government, still racked with the challenges of paying salaries and reducing public debt has accorded scant attention to pouring IMF assistance to mounting drought and famine challenges. With the international aid community focused on Ukraine and a slew of flood-ravaged regions in West Asia, the situation in the Horn of Africa is likely to degenerate into near-crisis mode before regional governments and the world pile in with mitigating efforts. This is scant comfort for the millions of Somalis who might be caught in the crosshairs of yet another avoidable humanitarian disaster.