MOGADISHU: Sitting in the hot sun, starving women and children wait for food aid at a camp on the outskirts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. They walked for days, fleeing the drought that is now ravaging much of rural Somalia. Their growing ranks are expected to swell further in the coming months as the Horn of Africa region faces its worst drought conditions in a decade.
This week, the United Nations World Food Program warned that 13 million people in the region, including parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, would face severe famine in the first quarter of 2022.
Immediate aid is needed to avert a major humanitarian crisis, the agency warned. The Horn of Africa has long been vulnerable to drought and famine, often exacerbated by armed violence.
The Somali government in November declared a state of humanitarian emergency due to drought, with the worst affected areas being the south-central areas of Lower Jubba, Geddo and Lower Shabelle regions.
“The impact on families is being felt more harshly this season due to the result of multiple prolonged droughts in quick succession, a deterioration in the security situation, locust infestations, soaring food prices , reduced remittances – and less money committed by donors,” the aid group Save the Children said earlier this week about the drought in Somalia.
A survey in November covering 15 of Somalia’s 18 regions found that “the majority of families now go without meals on a regular basis”, it said in a statement.
In Somalia, 250,000 people died of starvation in 2011, when the UN declared famine in parts of the country. Half of them were children.
WFP said it needs $327 million to meet the immediate needs of 4.5 million people over the next six months, including in Somalia.
Somali leaders have also tried to mobilize local support, and many have responded.
A task force set up earlier this month by Prime Minister Mohamed Roble is collecting and distributing donations from the business community as well as from Somalis in the diaspora. Part of what they donate feeds hundreds of families residing in camps like Ontorley, which is home to around 700 families.
“There are not (many) humanitarian agencies operating on the ground and these people are in urgent need of support and assistance such as shelter, food, water and good sanitation,” said Abdullahi Osman, director of the Hormuud Salaam Charitable Foundation and a member of the prime minister’s drought task force.
Around five to 10 desperate families arrive at Ontorley camp each day, according to camp manager Nadiifa Hussein.
Faduma Ali said she traveled more than 500 km from her home in Saakow, a town in Middle Jubba province, to Mogadishu.
“The problems I face are all due to the drought,” she said. “We had no water and our cattle had perished and when I lost everything I walked the road for seven days.”
Amina Osman, a visibly emaciated woman also from Saakow, said two women accompanying them on their journey to Mogadishu died of starvation en route.
“We encountered many difficulties, including lack of water and food,” said the mother of four. “We walked all the way from our village to this settlement. We spent eight days on the road.
More acutely malnourished patients are arriving at Martino Hospital in Mogadishu, and some have died, said director Dr Abdirizaq Yusuf. Malnourished patients are treated free of charge, he said.
“Due to the increase in cases of acute malnutrition, the hospital now employs specialist doctors and nutritionists who help those most affected,” he said. “Many of them come from remote parts of Somalia and are now living in (displaced persons) camps.”