Somali authorities are scrambling to avert famine from a record drought that has affected nearly eight million Somalis, or half the population. The largest city in Somalia's South West state, Baidoa, is bearing the brunt as thousands of families flee starvation in the countryside to displaced camps in the city. Aid groups and authorities are pleading for international help to prevent further loss of life.
The U.N.’s World Food Program aid Somalia’s worst drought in nearly half a century has wiped out millions of livestock and has nearly 8 million people, including 1.5 million children, facing chronic hunger.
The unprecedented failure of a fifth rainy season in a row has displaced more than 1 million Somalis from the countryside, forcing them to head to the outskirts of cities like Baidoa.
Many have no option but to walk and the most vulnerable don’t always survive.
For Maroog Adan Laamow, it was a difficult journey. It took three days and three of her children died of hunger. She said the family has not received any aid for three months.
“Our only source of income is the firewood we cut and sell,” she said in Somali. “If we don’t sell any, we are unable to eat and sometimes go hungry all night.”
Children under the age of 5, the most vulnerable to malnutrition, receive what care is available at Baidoa hospital.
Khadijo Isak said the drought has decimated her crops and livestock.
“We have not been able to grow our crops for four consecutive seasons due to lack of rain,” she said in Somali. “Our livestock has been wiped out and my son is suffering from malnutrition."
Hospital admissions for children are rising quickly, said Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim at Baidoa hospital. The hospital had been admitting about 150 to 200 malnourished children per month, a figure that has risen to 300 to 400.
Somalia’s Southwest State government is working closely with aid agencies to lessen the impact of the drought and try to prevent famine.
The state minister of humanitarian and disaster management, Abdinasir Abdi Arush, is coordinating relief efforts.
“Our goal is to ensure that no famine occurs in this country, and we expect God to help in our efforts to ensure that it does not happen,” he said in Somali. “It is important that we do all that is possible to prevent people from dying of hunger. As a government, we have been entrusted with responsibility by our people."
But in the makeshift camps for the displaced, there are few visible signs of adequate aid for drought victims.
The last declared famine in Somalia in 2011 killed a quarter of a million people.
If more food aid doesn’t arrive soon, aid groups say another famine in Somalia could be even worse.