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MOGADISHU: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to avert famine in Somalia where a biting drought has left three million people going hungry.

Somalia is facing its third famine in the 25 years that it has been embroiled in civil war and anarchy. A 2011 famine left 260,000 people dead in the Horn of Africa nation.

“There is a chance to avoid the worst ... but we need massive support from the international community to avoid a repetition of the tragic events of 2011,” said Guterres. “It justifies a massive response,” he added.

After a stop in Mogadishu, Guterres visited a camp of displaced people in the central city of Baidoa which has been hard-hit by the drought.

“The major factor for coming here was the drought. There is a lack of water, a lack of food. Our livestock has died,” said mother-of-six Mainouna who arrived in the camp last month. She only brought three of her children, the youngest of which is one year old, and left the others with her family in the southern region of Middle Juba.

Guterres said the world had a “moral obligation” to help people like Mainouna. Guterres earlier met with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a popular leader whose recent election has sparked hope among Somalis of a more stable future for a country notorious for being the world’s foremost failed state.

“We have a drought which could result in a famine if we don’t receive any rain in the coming two months,” said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo.

While Somalia is inching closer to stability, Farmajo warned after his election that there would be no quick fixes for the country after decades of repeated cycles of drought and insecurity.

African Union troops forced the Al Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab group out of the capital in 2011 but the jihadists still control parts of the countryside and carry out attacks against government, military and civilian targets, seemingly at will, in Mogadishu and regional towns.

“It is the dramatic situation of countries like Somalia that has created terrorism,” said Guterres.

The Horn of Africa nation is one of three countries — along with Yemen and Nigeria — on the verge of famine which has already been declared in South Sudan.Conflict and severe drought are the common denominators that have led to an unprecedented number of famine alerts at one time around the world.

The United Nations said last month that $4.4 billion in emergency funding is needed to address the crisis in the four countries, where more than 20 million people face starvation.

An official declaration of famine is made when 20 per cent of the population in the affected area has extremely limited access to food, acute malnutrition is higher than 30 per cent, and more than two per 10,000 people are dying every day.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2017