- Until Mercy Friday
- BBC News, Galkayo
As Somalia faces what experts say is its worst drought in a decade, children are bearing the brunt. Parents are struggling to feed them, and nearly half of the country’s population under the age of five is at risk of acute malnutrition by June.
Nimco Abdi gently places her six-month-old baby girl on a plastic basin supported by sisal ropes. The scales on which the cymbal is suspended indicate 0.6 stone (4 kg). That’s almost half of a child’s ideal weight.
She is too small for her age. His eyes are sunken, his bones protrude, and his skin is wrinkled and pale. She lets out a low, barely audible scream as Nimco picks her up.
“I used to breastfeed her. But I got sick because of the lack of food. And she got so skinny that I decided to bring her here. At least she can get milk and medicine,” says Nimco.
Nimco has just arrived at a malnutrition stabilization center in Luuq, 500 km from Mogadishu in south-west Somalia. She gets a bed in the facility that she has to share with another mother.
Her story is one of many mothers who risk seeing their children die of malnutrition.
“If nothing is done, 350,000 of the 1.4 million children suffering from severe malnutrition in the country are expected to die by this summer,” warns Adam Abdelmoula of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).
“Already in this country, 70% of school-age children are out of school. In one state alone in Juba country, the drought has caused the closure of 40 schools and this will be the trend in many many drought-affected areas,” said he added that some girls are married off early because their families cannot support them.
Fatuma Mohamed, a nurse at Luuq Malnutrition Center, explains that the accommodation capacity is 18 beds, but that there are more than 50 children and their mothers.
“What worries us is the big numbers we’re getting. We’re overworked and working beyond our capacity. We’re running out of medical supplies,” she explains.
Some of the children are so weak that they die on the way.
“The women come with severely malnourished children. Most also have acute watery diarrhea and measles,” she continues.
This center is just a snapshot of the situation across Somalia. 4.5 million people were affected by the drought. The Juba River, the largest in Somalia, is almost empty.
According to the United Nations, almost 700,000 people have been displaced from their homes in search of food and water for themselves and their animals, and the number is rising.
There has been no rain for four seasons and temperatures are unbearable, with 90% of the country dry.
Animal carcasses lie on the ground along the roads in rural areas – dead goats, donkeys and camels. This situation is catastrophic for the many Somalis who earn their living by raising and selling animals.
Food and water prices skyrocket. Villages were abandoned as people moved closer to urban centers in search of relief.
What remains are the old ones waiting – either for the rain or for their young to return with water.
The drought is affecting not only Somalia but also the rest of the Horn of Africa and many other parts of the continent. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at least a quarter of Africans are affected by a food crisis.
The number of displaced people is also increasing dramatically. The hunger crisis is also overshadowed by the war between Russia and Ukraine, as all efforts, aid and funding are focused on that country.
IDP camps are scattered across the country. And new ones keep popping up. Some people hadn’t even recovered from the 2017 drought, which was declared a national disaster, before it hit.
The worst is yet to come
In a camp in Galkayo, hundreds of kilometers north of Luuq, Hawa Fargod, who is seven months pregnant, is sitting with her two small children. His makeshift hut, like hundreds of others here, is built of sticks and covered with burlap sacks and clothing. It’s been cold in his house for days.
Alongside Hawa Fargod, Hawa Sharif talks about her three-day journey to the camp with her five children on a donkey cart. The donkey died immediately after their arrival at the camp.
“This donkey was the last surviving animal we had. Everything else died.”
The drought has separated families – men have gone to the cities to earn a living, while women and children are moving to where they can get help.
Humanitarian organizations speak of a huge funding crisis. They only have 3% of what it takes to intervene in the country.
They try to send tankers, food and medical aid. But all of this cannot reach everyone – and it will not be possible in the coming weeks either if more funds and donations are not available.
With average to below average rainfall forecast for April, there are fears the worst is yet to come.
Hawa Fargod knows that feeling of impending doom all too well. As she suffers from kidney disease herself and has sick children, she has no hope for the future.
“I fear for my children,” she said grimly.