Mogadishu (AFP) – Two of his sons died of starvation in 18 months, the victims of the endless drought sweeping Somalia, Arbayi Mahad Kassem witnessed. As the situation worsens, she is now fighting to save her daughter Ifrah.
In her twenties, the young woman wasted no time when her two-year-old’s body began to swell, a symptom of severe malnutrition. She left her village of Afgoye Gedo to reach the capital, Mogadishu, within a day.
At Banadir Maternity and Children’s Hospital, she finds herself with dozens of other parents who are experiencing the same anguish as hers. Some walked several days to save their child.
For months, Somalia has been mired in a serious food crisis caused by drought on an unprecedented scale for at least 40 years, which is also affecting neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya.
Humanitarian organizations continue to warn of the dangers of famine – more real every day – in the region.
The last four rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have been insufficient, and today 7.1 million Somalis, nearly half of the population, live in a state of hunger, of whom 213 thousand are on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Somalis – who mainly live off livestock farming and agriculture – have left their villages after witnessing their last resources exterminated.
“The harvest was not done. We lost our cattle. The river dried up,” says Khadija Muhammad Hassan, who brought her 14-month-old son Bilal to the hospital.
“I am 45 and have never seen such a devastating drought in my life. We live in the worst conditions of our time,” she sighs.
The staff at Banadir Hospital are exhausted.
According to one of the female doctors, Hafsa Mohamed Hassan, the number of patients arriving from the hospital’s ambulance center due to dehydration has tripled. On some days the facility does not have enough beds to accommodate all patients.
“The cases we receive include children with complications (caused by malnutrition, editor’s note), such as severe measles, and others in a coma due to acute malnutrition,” she explained.
For Bashar Othman Hussein, of the NGO Concern Worldwide, which has been supporting Banadir Hospital since 2017, the situation has become critical.
“Between January and June, the number of children admitted to the stabilization center at Banadir Hospital with severe acute malnutrition and other complications increased from 120 to 230 per month,” he explains.
“we can’t wait”
Everyone fears that the upcoming rainy season in October and November will fail again, further undermining this unstable country with its unstable infrastructure.
Somalia has been facing the insurgency of the Islamist al-Shabab movement for 15 years, whose establishment in vast rural areas of the country limits humanitarian access to the population.
The war raging in Ukraine is also having a major impact on the lives of Somalis, who have seen a sharp rise in food prices.
With the world’s attention focused on Ukraine, humanitarian organizations are struggling to raise funds. They collected only 18% of the estimated $1.5 billion needed to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, half of whom were children under six.
“We can’t wait for the famine declaration to act,” the World Food Program’s director in Somalia, Al Khader Dalum, said on Monday.
Newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud last week visited a camp for the displaced near Baidoa in the southwest of the country.
He urged “anyone who has a plate of food on their table today should think of the child somewhere crying out of hunger and help him in any way possible.”
At Banadir Hospital, Khadija Mohammed Hassan Bilal looks after the weak and remains optimistic: “We’ve been here for thirteen days, it looks better now.”
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