At last some good news out of Somalia: the famine is less bad now than in recent months.
According to the latest assessment from the Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) — the official measure of where and how bad the famine is — things have improved a little.
Famine levels of malnutrition have receded in three areas (Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle) but remain in Middle Shabelle and the camps for displaced people in and around Mogadishu.
This is good news, but with limits. The projected number of those likely to starve to death in Somalia has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000, still a startlingly large number.
The food shortages remain the worst anywhere on the planet, and the worst in the region since the Somali famine of 1991 and 1992.
FSNAU attributes the improvements to the increased access and response of aid agencies in the affected areas and predicts that “the most likely scenario” will be the disappearance of famine in 2012.
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Never ones to miss a trick, it is likely that the Shabaab, which continues to hold sway in Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle despite increased military pressure from African Union soldiers in Mogadishu and Kenyan forces further south, will claim that it is responsible for the improved conditions. This will be nonsense.
Aid agencies will also be keen to take responsibility for the improvement and use it to lobby for more funds, but they should also be asked to explain why the camps of Mogadishu, where they have the most unrestricted access, remain in famine.