In the meantime the number of starving will increase and the slow, gradual emptying of southern Somalia will continue, adding to the burden placed on neighbours Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, which host most of Somalia’s refugees.
How big an obstacle is al-Shabaab?
Al-Shabaab is an Islamist militia that has attacked and threatened aid agencies in the past, making access very difficult — though not impossible. It comes as no surprise that the famine is, so far, restricted to areas under Al-Shabaab's control where aid has only trickled in. Some Western charities still work in Shabaab territory using local intermediaries, and Islamic charities are welcome.
Will more money solve the crisis?
It will help. The UN says that it needs $2.5 billion but has only received $1.1 billion so far. Oxfam says the situation is “spiralling out of control” yet donors are not responding with urgency to fund-raising efforts. But money isn’t everything. The difficulties of working in Shabaab areas means increased aid will have to be funnelled through local partners who lack the capacity to deliver food on the same scale as a banned agency such as the UN’s World Food Programme. But while money will alleviate the immediate suffering of millions, it won’t solve the underlying political crisis.