Famine is forcing Somalis by the hundreds of thousands to leave their homes in search of survival. Some are fleeing across the border to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, where international aid agencies are providing food aid. But those reaching the Somali capital are finding little if any help.
Women with scrawny children on their hips stand in line for hours outside the dirt-floored kitchen at Mogadishu’s Badbaado Camp, holding a pot or sometimes just a plastic bag. Inside, volunteers man two huge iron cauldrons, scooping out a ladle of boiled white rice into each container.
For most of the camp’s 20,000 or so residents, that rice and a bit of thin soup is all they have to survive on.
Forty-year-old Khadija Ibrahim and her six children walked most of the way from a village 200 kilometers south of the capital, in an area controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab. She says an al-Shabab gunman killed her husband when he refused an order to go to a mosque.
Khadija says the rice has little nutritional value, but it’s better than nothing, which is what they had in the famine-stricken south.
“We eat rice with no meat or vegetables. It’s not nutritious, but it’s survival. We eat whatever we can get,” she said.
Authorities say hundreds of camps just like Badbaado have sprung up in and around Mogadishu over the past three months. There may be 200 Badbaados, maybe 300. No one knows for sure.
But while aid is reaching the refugee camps outside Somalia, the United Nations and the big international humanitarian agencies have still not been able to begin food distribution in Mogadishu. It was only a week ago that al-Shabab was driven out of the city, allowing aid workers to survey the scope of the unfolding catastrophe.
It will be weeks, maybe months, before a system of food distribution can be set up.
26-year-old Umar Aden has been here with his family for nearly a month. He says what little food there is being supplied by local businesses hoping to prevent a mass starvation.
“This camp has a leader who collects money from the local community and he cooks food for us every single day," Aden said.
Still for many, it is hard to understand why it is taking so long to get food, some of which has reached Mogadishu port.
Mohammed Abdallah is a community elder working with the people of Badbaado Camp. He worries that help may not be on the way in time to help many of the camp’s sick and malnourished children.
“Our requests for aid have fallen on deaf ears. There’s nothing.” He says the only thing available the cooked rice and some plastic sheeting for making tents," he said.
With al-Shabab gone, aid agencies are beginning to descend on the city. The head of the United Nations disaster relief agency OCHA is said to be arriving in the next couple days.
But aid professionals say even in the best case scenario, the short-term outlook for those who have arrived in Mogadishu, and for those who may still be suffering in the famine-stricken south and central Somalia, is disturbing.