I recently returned from spending a week in Somalia, where I saw first-hand the catastrophic effects that today’s famine is having on its people, and how drought has devastated the land they depend on.
Agriculture is the country’s largest employer, with two-thirds of Somalia’s workforce traditionally relying on farming to scratch a living. But no longer, however, for years of drought have reduced fields to parched scrubland that cannot be farmed or used to sustain livestock, leading to the deaths of many thousands of cattle, sheep and goats. As a result, some 6.5 million people – half the population of Somalia – have had to leave their barren farmlands in search of food and water.
The number of people affected by the combination of drought and famine is unprecedented, with women, children and older people suffering the most – more than 800,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished.
Since March, Islamic Relief has worked to highlight the urgent need for funds to help the 16 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan who are on the brink of starvation and in immediate need of food, water and medical treatment. Firstly, in collaboration with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), through our joint East Africa Crisis Appeal, and then later through our own independent campaign.
Thankfully, the response from the British public has been phenomenal, with the DEC crisis appeal raising an incredible £50 million to enable its member charities to step up their response and provide more food, water and medical care to these millions of people. Most are women and children who walk 30km in excruciating heat in search of some food and water.
During the 2011 famine, 260,000 people died in Somalia. History looks set to repeat itself unless we act now to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
I visited three camps in Somalia for people who have been internally displaced. At one of the camps I met two dear people who shared their stories with me – stories that I believe captures the pain and grief that millions of people are experiencing there on a daily basis.
Fatouma, from the town of Burhakaba in the south western Bay region, around 250km from Mogadishu, told me:
“We are farmers and our lives depend on our livestock and farming. With no rain there was no food for our cattle to eat and 30 of our cattle very quickly died. We weren’t able to grow anything, and we were forced to leave home in search of food and water.”
With her husband and their six malnourished children, the family left their village with only the clothes on their backs. Their journey on foot was an arduous one. “Walking in this heat was almost unbearable, but we had no choice,” she said. “My children were sick because we couldn’t feed them. The bodies of my three youngest started to badly swell.”
Unknown to Fatouma, the swelling was an indicator of kwashiorkor, a serious form of malnutrition due to a diet lacking in protein and other essential nutrients. Too much fluid in the body’s tissues causes swelling under the skin and results in an enlarged “pot-belly” stomach, leaving children very vulnerable to infections.
Sadly, one by one, her three youngest children Nooratu, Khadiju and Usman, died on the journey to Mogadishu. Fatouma and her husband could not afford to bury their children but local villagers en route raised the money for the three funerals.
It took the rest of the family 10 days to reach Mogadishu. They arrived at a camp with little sanitation, where the only food is that which is donated by local people, who are themselves struggling to get by. Camps like these are filling up fast. Over two days the numbers had swelled by over 200.
We did not speak the same language, but from looking into Fatouma’s eyes it was clear that she was still in a deep state of shock, her pain palpable from her body language.
Then there is Mohammad Ali Abdullah, who lost his wife to acute watery diarrhoea. When you are thirsty, and there is no clean water but puddles of mud, you become so desperate that you drink that. She contracted diarrhoea and, as a result, passed away.
I met Mohammad and his five children when they had just arrived at the camp, desperately looking for shelter from the sun and the intense heat. They were a sad sight, having lost their mother on top of walking for days without food or water.
This is a crisis upon a crisis. It is the reality for millions of people in Somalia and now across much of East Africa. Unless we continue to act by donating to Islamic Relief’s East Africa Crisis Appeal or any of the aid agencies already working on the ground, we could be facing another catastrophic humanitarian disaster in the region that will overshadow the 2011 famine.
Donations to Islamic Relief’s East Africa Crisis Appeal can be made here.
Follow Tufail Hussain on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TufailH
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.
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