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Acute famine hits Somalia

24 Apr 2017, 15:43

Sayed Ahmed
A malnourished child is fed a special formula by her mother at a regional hospital in Baidoa. Photo: AFP

Aid agencies anticipate the emerging feminine in Somalia as the worst in the living memory. They claim that more than 6 million people in Somalia are in need for assistance and about half of them are threatened with famine for lack of food due to the deepening drought. The UN has reported that 800,000 severely malnourished children are at risk today of dying of starvation unless they get treatment fast.  The country has not witnessed raining for two long years which has caused the cattle die, wells dry out and fields go barren.  The 2011 famine killed around 250,000 people in Somalia, while the 1992 famine left an estimated 220,000 people died.

Due to lack of food and illness, death is toll mounting in the worst-hit areas in Southern and Central Somalia. People are crowding in the cities for help and on their long ways for support they are burying their children who die for the lack of food even for the scarcity of drinking water.  Since the beginning of 2017, the UN has figured ‘grossly underreported’ 550 deaths as a result of cholera and similar diseases in Somalia. In reality the true figure could be at least 10 times higher.

Fearing worse situation to come in the near future, half a million Somalis have left their homes for towns and cities. More than a million more will move by the end of the year which constitutes almost a tenth of the country’s population of 11 million. More than 100,000 new arrivals are staying in the temporary camps on the outskirts of Baidoa.

The aid agencies and the personnel concerned see all the classic signs of a famine. They predict that even if the seasonal rain due in May arrives, it will take months for new crops to grow. And the rain means diseases linked to insanitary conditions and contaminated water will get worse. So there is not much hope for escaping the casualties. UN officials say the crisis is the largest since the organization was founded in 1945. Quoting Michael Keating, the top UN official in Somalia, Jason Burke, the Guardian correspondent of Africa, wrote:  the international community’s reaction so far had been very impressive but needs were ‘outpacing the ability to respond. If it doesn’t rain we have one type of humanitarian problem, and if it does, we have another.’

Jason Burke talked to some people in Baidoa who walked hundreds of kilometers for some food and shelter.  ‘There is nothing where we come from. The cattle are all dead, there is no food we can afford … if we stay we will die,’ said Hawa Ali, who had walked for eight days with five other families carrying two newly orphaned infants. Many leave it too late and the journey can be too much for the weak. Adnan Muktar, 36, had buried two of his five children by the roadside as they walked from Wajit, 60 miles away. ‘They died because we had no water. I knew how weak they were. I was coming here to save them,’ he said.

 ‘Civil society, religious leaders, the diaspora, the government ... we are all working day and night,’ said Abdirahman Yarisow, the information minister. But the size of the influx mires all efforts. Seven thousand people now live in small domed shelters of wood and cloth on a single small clearing among thorn bushes on the edge of Baidoa. The unplanned camp has no sanitation, and its inhabitants receive only a bare minimum of water from the UN. Their food supplies are inadequate. New people are coming every hour and the first cases of acute watery diarrhoea or cholera have been registered.

A number of organizations are working to keep the situation under control. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, put up this message on their official website and asked for donation to fight the famine in Somalia:  Starvation has found its way to put the lives of millions into jeopardy and accordingly push them to flee their homes leaving them in urgent need for vital help, such as medical aid, high-protein, high-energy food, and clean water.  In Somalia, Hundreds of thousands of Somalis had to flee their homes in drought-struck areas to find food and water. Right now, thousands of families are starving. People are barely hanging on, and they are selling everything they have to buy food to feed their kids and not eating as adults.

The famine that hit Somalia from 2010 to 2012 killed about 260,000 people. A report of the UN and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) said half of the people died in the famine were children under the age of five.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said humanitarian aid needed to be provided more quickly. The crisis was caused by a severe drought, worsened by conflict between rival groups fighting for power. The number of deaths was higher than the estimated 220,000 people who died during the 1992 famine. The FAO and Fews Net carried a study on the famine in Somalia. Chris Hillbruner , the Fews Net official opined:  ‘It suggests that what occurred in Somalia was one of the worst famines in the last 25 years.’

The UN declared a famine in July 2011 in Somalia's Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions. The region was controlled by the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, which is aligned to al-Qaeda. Al-Shabab denied there was a famine and banned several Western aid agencies from operating on territory under its control. The famine later spread to other areas, including Middle Shabelle, Afgoye, and at camps for displaced people in the government-controlled capital, Mogadishu. An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under five died in southern and central Somalia, the report says. In Lower Shabelle, 18% of children under five died and in Mogadishu 17%, the report said. The extreme drought hit Somalia worst in 2011 which affected more than 13 million people across the Horn of Africa. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in search of food. The UN declared the famine over in February 2012.

On May 2, 2013, BBC News reported that the UK government had set out policies on how to tackle the root cause of famine and contain the effects of drought. The UK's International Development Secretary Justine Greening said Somalia's famine had been ‘one of the worst disasters of recent times.’ NPR's Eyder Peralta notes that the country already declared the drought a national disaster on 28 February. As Somalia has dried up, Hassan Ali Khayre, the Prime Minister of Somalia says, ‘the lack of clean water has increased the risks of waterborne diseases, while the ability of malnourished people to fight off those diseases has plummeted.’ ‘I can confirm that Bay region in the south and other parts of Somalia are deteriorating rapidly and my estimation is that half of the country's population has felt the impact of this drought’, he added.  ‘It is a difficult situation for the pastoralists and their livestock. Some people have been hit by [hunger] and diarrhoea at the same time,’ Khayre's office said in a statement. ‘The Somali government will do its best, and we urge all Somalis, wherever they are, to help and save the dying Somalis.’

(The author is a freelancer. He can be reached at green23feb@gmail.com)

 

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