MOGADISHU, Somalia ― When Nunay Abdi’s last goat died and her small piece of land dried up, she set out for the city with her six children in search of food and water. By the time she reached the southwestern town of Baidoa, some 60 miles from her village on foot, the 45-year-old single mother realized that two of her children were missing.
In a state of delirium from hunger and thirst, she couldn’t tell if she had forgotten them somewhere along the way, or worse, lost them to dehydration and starvation. The worried mother waited in a camp for displaced Somalis for two weeks for news of her children, aged 4 to 16 years old.
She eventually reconnected with them, but the youngest passed away soon after from severe malnutrition.
Abdi’s story isn’t unique ― there are many more like her here in Somalia, where conflict and climate change have wreaked havoc and brought the country to the brink of famine. And if things continue in this fashion, life for those like Abdi will get worse before it gets better.
Somalia is no stranger to the dangers of climate change. Rainfall has been erratic here for the past three years. And the current drought comes on the heels of a famine in 2011 that killed over 250,000, most of whom were women and children.
Back then, we responded too late. Death came for many before famine was even declared. The lives lost were a tragic price to pay for our collective inaction. Today, the warning signs are here again. This country could soon face its third famine in a quarter of a century.
Drought used to come once a decade and only in parts of Somalia. Now, the conditions are more regular ― about every other year. The current dry spell is affecting the whole country, with experts fearing it could be more deadly than the last, so deadly it could lead to total collapse. And climate change is wearing down Somalia’s ability to cope. A state of emergency has been declared. More than 6 million people ― over half of Somalia’s population ― are in need of aid.
As their farms dry up and their cattle die, it’s impossible for people, many of whom are herders who rely on water, to escape the harsh environmental reality each day. They leave their homes, walking miles on the parched dirt in search of help. Carcasses dot the deserted landscape in their wake. To make matters worse, it’s not only drought driving people from their homes but conflict too. Many are robbed along the way, and some women have reported sexual abuse.
Somalia hasn’t had an effective government in two decades, creating a vacuum for militant groups and making it one of the most dangerous places to work in. In 2016, it was named the most fragile state in the world on the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index. And violence and terrorism mean gaining access to the growing refugee population is a constant challenge for humanitarian workers like us.
Since November, thousands of displaced people have come to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, where I live. This recent influx, made up of those who abandoned their homes in rural areas, join the approximately 1 million people already displaced by decades of violence in this country.
It has become common to see women and children begging in the streets of Mogadishu. As I traverse my city, I see mothers looking for help. And I see children, some the age of my own, doing the same. Many of them suffer from malnutrition ― some 1.4 million children are projected to be acutely malnourished in Somalia this year ― and clinics are few and hard to come by.
These are the lucky ones who made it to the cities after walking for days. But they are confronted with more challenges upon their arrival. Crowded conditions and a lack of sanitation make the camps and shantytowns ripe for disease, particularly cholera, which is a growing problem. The limited water tastes bad and is often contaminated, but it’s all they have.
Small tent settlements have sprung up everywhere, with some of the most populated areas resembling a desert. Colorful scraps of fabric are the only contrast to the red dirt. Too weak to walk any further, people sit listlessly in front of their makeshift shelters, staring blankly at the world around them. Humanitarians have even coined a name for them: drought dropouts.
Salid Halima is one of them. I met her in a small village called Beled Hawa, northwest of the capital near the border with Ethiopia and Kenya. The 50-year-old woman looks after 10 emaciated cows. There were others, she told me, but she left the remaining cattle back home with her husband and now lives here with a relative and her four children.
“This is the worst drought I’ve witnessed in over 30 years,” she said, worse than the one six years ago. “It has killed most of my animals, and I am worried I might lose family members due to hunger and thirst if the conditions don’t improve soon.”
But in the drought and displacement, there is a glimmer of light. Ironically, many Somalis began this year more optimistic than they have been in decades. A new government has taken office. And though militants still control large swaths of the country, stability is returning to many areas. There is hope.
I saw it in the woman I met on the outskirts of the capital. Halima, a mother of five, started a small business after borrowing money from her community-led microfinance group. That investment shows her faith, sending a message that all is not lost ― that there is a future for Somalia. Local Somalis like her and those from the diaspora are making huge investments. The private sector is growing. But this growth needs to reach everyone, everywhere in Somalia.
We know there will be more droughts due to the changing climate. To respond to them effectively, we need better governance and long-term peace in Somalia. And we cannot afford to wait.
A catastrophe can still be averted, but the international community, including the United States, cannot continue to stall. The nearly $1 billion in emergency funding for famine response in the region, provided in the recently passed U.S. omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2017, is a significant step. But continued, robust foreign aid will be needed to avoid a surge in death and to prevent famine. The United Nations is requesting an additional $900 million for Somalia this year. But so far, not enough of the necessary funding has been coming in. If we wait until famine is declared like we did in 2011, thousands of lives will already be lost ― and the response will come at an exorbitant economic cost.
Instead of cutting foreign aid ― as the Trump administration suggested in its budget proposal ― the U.S. should continue to show its compassion and support. The generosity of the American people is deeply rooted in that nation’s history, and foreign assistance reflects American values. With some 20 million people on the verge of famine ― in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and parts of South Sudan ― now is not the time to walk back that generosity.
We may not be able to undo the past and bring back the more than a quarter of a million lives lost during Somalia’s last famine, but we can imagine for a moment what it would be like for our kids to go without food or water for days. No snacks. None of their favorite candies. Depending on handouts to survive or facing a situation like Nunay Abdi ― walking miles in the face of hunger and thirst only to lose a child to starvation. We can do better, and we owe it to Abdi and others in Somalia to act now before the cost of our inaction is forever engraved on the tombstones of hundreds of thousands more Somalis.
Mohamed Dahir is a program manager for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Somalia. His current role is coordinating emergency relief activities along with leading a three-year USAID funded project aimed at increasing resilience in rural communities. He is based in Mogadishu.
Somalia’s Puntland Region Declares State of Emergency Over Drought
Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland declared a state of emergency Tuesday and appealed for food and water because of shortages triggered by a severe drought.
Drought has gripped large parts of the Horn of Africa country this year and the United Nations says children face acute malnutrition.
The crisis is compounded by al-Shabab’s Islamist insurgency that seeks to topple the central government that is backed by African Union peacekeepers and the West.
Al-Shabab militants carry out bombings in the capital Mogadishu and other regions. Militants killed more than 500 people in the capital in an attack last month.
Puntland’s government said 34,000 households across the region are affected by the drought due to the failure of successive rainy seasons.
Puntland “launched a wide-ranging humanitarian appeal to secure food, water and other resources for the affected region,” a government statement said. It said 70 percent of the area faced extreme drought and was unlikely to receive rain for five months.
Militant attacks in Puntland are rare compared to the rest of Somalia mainly because its security forces are relatively regularly paid and receive substantial U.S. assistance.
But this year there has been an upsurge in violence as al-Shabab and a splinter group linked to Islamic State have attacked government troops.
Family in remote northern Somali village sell last camel in lost bid to save daughter sick with measles
RADIO ERGO — Saleban Mohamed Mire lost two of his daughters, aged six and two, from measles in the space of a week in the remote and forgotten northern Somali village of Fardhin.
After one daughter died, he sold his last remaining camel to get the money to transport the other sick child to the nearest hospital, some 45 km away on poor roads in the dusty town of Boame.
But they arrived there too late to save her.
“After my first daughter died at home we decided to rush the other one to hospital. We organised some money but it took us four days to travel to the hospital. She was in a critical state when we got there and the doctors couldn’t do much to save her,” Saledin told Radio Ergo.
“I blame the lack of health care [in our area] for their deaths from this disease,” he added.
The family, with eight children, ended up using the $350 they got from the sale of their camel to pay the medical fees for their dead daughter, who spent two days in hospital.
Saleeban said there were other families in his village with patients affected by measles and with no means of accessing hospitals.
“We have seen deaths of children in the area, I took part in the burial of two other children two days ago in Karin-Kafood village, I presume that they died of measles,” he
Dr Mohamed Yasin Warasame, known as Hayte, who works in a private hospital in Boame, told Radio Ergo that three people died whilst being treated in his hospital.
“There are over 50 people who have been hospitalized with the disease. It is causing concern particularly in Karin-karfood village. The people who are sick in the rural areas where there are no medical services are the worst affected,” he said.
The District Commissioner’s office confirmed the deaths of three people including a six- year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy.
Boame lies in the border area between Puntland, Somaliland and Ethiopia. Its control is disputed by Puntland and Somaliland and as a result it has very poor services and little if any access to aid. The people living there are traditionally nomadic pastoralists.
The commissioner of Boame district, Hayle Hassan Shire, told Radio Ergo’s local reporter that people often contacted his office asking for help but they were not able to do much to stop the spread of measles in the district.
“We tried to ask for aid from Puntland administration two weeks ago but they have not yet responded,” the commissioner said.
He added that vaccination services do not always reach the 15 remote villages in the district, where there are also up to 20 spontaneous camps that have been set up by distressed pastoralists displaced from their normal migration patterns by the terrible drought.
The recent rainfall in some areas has prompted a new movement of large numbers of people in search of water and pasture for their animals. This has led to the spread of diseases such as measles.
Apart from one private hospital, Boame has only two Mother and Child Health centres.
Dr Hayte said there is a need for health services to be taken out to the people in distant villages.
“We are private hospital and we have medicine, we treat whoever comes here at a fee and we sometimes give them services on credit. But there are many others who cannot afford to reach the hospital. These people need humanitarian aid,” he said.
UN appeals for record $22.5 bn in global aid for 2018
AFP — The United Nations appealed Friday for a record $22.5 billion (18.9 billion euros) to provide aid in 2018 to soaring numbers of people slammed by conflicts and disasters around the world.
The global appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations aims to raise funds to help the some 91 million most vulnerable of the nearly 136 million people expected to need aid across 26 countries next year.
The number of people in need of international assistance worldwide has thus risen more than five percent from last year’s estimate.
“More people than ever before will need our assistance,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement launching the appeal.
Drought, floods and other weather-related catastrophes are expected to continue racking up humanitarian needs.
But Lowcock stressed that “conflict, in particular protracted crises, will continue to be the main driver of need in 2018.”
One conflict clearly tops the charts in terms of humanitarian needs.
A full $7.66 billion is needed to address the staggering needs created by Syria’s brutal conflict alone — more than a third of the requested amount of funds next year.
According to the appeal, $3.5 billion is needed to provide humanitarian assistance inside the war-ravaged country, where more than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from their homes since March 2011.
Another $4.16 billion is needed to address the towering needs of the 5.3 million Syrian refugees registered in neighbouring countries, as well as of their over-burdened host communities, the appeal said.
War-torn Yemen, which is facing the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis, comes next on the list, with Friday’s appeal urging donors to cough up $2.5 billion to provide desperately needed assistance to the most vulnerable people in the country.
That amount would meanwhile only cover the needs of 10.8 million people — fewer than half of the 22.2 million in need of aid, the UN acknowledged.
Other major crises requiring substantial funds include South Sudan, which has been wracked by civil war since 2013, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria.
On a more positive note, the UN said that humanitarian needs in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Ukraine had declined some, although they still remained high.
At the same time however, “substantial increases in needed are projected” in places like Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Libya, it warned.
The amount appealed for Friday marks a one-percent hike over the $22.2 billion requested last December for 2017.
But there is little chance all the requested cash will materialise.
Last year, donors covered just over half of the appeal, dishing out only $13 billion for aid around the world.