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Somalia at Brink of Famine

FILE - A Somali family who lost most of their livestock because of severe drought pose for a picture in Wajaale, Somalia. (UNHCR/Mustafa Saeed)
FILE - A Somali family who lost most of their livestock because of severe drought pose for a picture in Wajaale, Somalia. (UNHCR/Mustafa Saeed)
Somalia is facing its most severe drought in over three decades, with more than half of the population in dire need of food and water. The U.N. said earlier this month that parts of the country could soon plunge into famine.

Dead livestock, emaciated children and a constant call for help has become the norm in Somalia as a severe drought ravages the Horn of Africa nation.

The United Nations estimates 7.7 million people, or more than half of the population, are facing severe hunger or starvation this year.

"The scale is very serious, I was in Dollow and Juba river which is a permanent and very big river, one of the biggest in the country, is almost dry and this is as a result of lack of adequate rains for almost two years," said Simon Nyabwenge, the World Vision Country director in Somalia. "In 2019, I crossed to same Juba river with traditional canoe, it was full of water. And seeing it drying to this extent was very alarming and is indication that people are really suffering.”

With close to three million people already internally displaced by previous droughts and conflicts, Somalia is now forced to contend with more displacements amid shrinking donor aid to redeem this situation.

"In terms of actual numbers, when you look at last month and look at this month, 3.2 million people were in need of food assistance last month but right now, 4.3 million people, so within a month, 1.1 million people have moved to food insecure, so that is severe the situation is," Nyabwenge said.

In Gedo region which borders Kenya, deaths linked to food and water shortages have been reported, as local authorities and aid agencies try to avert the crisis. .

Ibrahim Guled Adan, the district commissioner of El Wak district, confirmed that five people have died of hunger and thirst in the district. The dead included two children and three adults. He said in the past, people used donkeys and camels to fetch water, but the donkeys and camels are dead now because there is nothing to eat.

With farmers now forced out of their homes, food security in Somalia could get worse.

Hassan Elmi Hassan was a farmer in Qooqane, on the outskirts of Beledweyne town. He said he and other farmers left the countryside as the river dried up and made farming impossible. He now works as a construction worker.

The Somali government recently declared a state of emergency due to the scale of drought, which it says has affected 80 percent of the population. Since then, the situation has worsened and the U.N. this week said 700,000 people had been displaced from their homes.

As the drought gets more severe, there are fears Somalia could sink into a famine. A deadly famine killed over 250,000 people in 2011 and displaced millions.

Concerted efforts by Somali government and the international community averted a famine in 2017 and similar efforts will be needed this year to stem the tide.