With food an impossibly scarce commodity in drought-stricken Somalia, Fatuma Abdille faces a harrowing choice every day: Which of her seven children will get to eat?
“If there’s a very small amount of food, we give it to those who need it the most — the youngest,” Abdille told Reuters this week from the capital Mogadishu, where her family recently fled after their herd of goats died from starvation.
Abdille’s 9-year-old son has been giving up his share of food so his younger siblings won’t suffer. “He is making a sacrifice,” his mother said with sadness.
Across Somalia, families like Abdille’s have shared their stories of inconceivable suffering as a prolonged drought, combined with the effects of the country’s ongoing civil war with the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, continues to drive extreme shortages of food and water. There’s the mother with sunken cheeks who walked over 100 miles with her two young children in search of food, water and shelter, her 3-year-old daughter suffering from fever and crying the entire way. There’s the child who had to quit school to help his family find food. And the father who grew steadily weaker after forgoing meals so his kids could eat.
More than 6.2 million people in Somalia — almost half the country’s population — are currently in need of urgent assistance, according to the United Nations. Of this number, more than 363,000 acutely malnourished children and 70,000 severely malnourished children require lifesaving support, according to the World Health Organization.
Last week, more than 100 people in a single region of Somalia died over two days because of famine and diarrhea. Somalia’s prime minister, Hassan Ali Khaire, announced on Saturday that at least 110 people in the country’s southwestern Bay region had died in the previous 48 hours.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived in Somalia on Tuesday on an emergency visit, said he was stunned by the rampant misery he witnessed.
“Every single person we have seen is a personal story of tremendous suffering. There is no way to describe it,” Guterres told reporters after visiting a cholera ward in Baidoa, a city northwest of Mogadishu.
As water sources have dried up, Somalis have been forced to drink water infected with the deadly cholera bacteria. Nearly 8,000 people have been affected and more than 180 have died in the outbreak so far. The WHO reported that nearly 5.5 million people are at risk of cholera.
“It makes me feel extremely unhappy with the fact that in today’s world, with the … the richness that exists, that these things are still possible. It is unbelievable,” Guterres said.
The world “must act now,” the former Portuguese prime minister added in a tweet, to avert further humanitarian disaster in the country.
Mistakes From 2011 Already Repeated
The U.N. has warned that there is limited time to prevent what would be Somalia’s third famine in 25 years. The last one, in 2011, saw the deaths of almost 260,000 people in Somalia ― half of whom were children under the age of 5.
“We need massive support from the international community to avoid a repetition of the tragic events of 2011,” Guterres said at a news conference on Tuesday.
But humanitarian groups say that mistakes from the 2011 disaster are already being repeated.
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said in an interview this week that the global response so far has lacked the coordination and speed needed to adequately address the crisis.
“I just haven’t seen the level of detailed planning that I would expect to see in a crisis of this order of magnitude especially in light of what happened six years ago,” Watkins told the Financial Times. “There have been pledges of $450 million but no one has any idea where this money is coming from, where it’s going to be delivered, when it’s going to be delivered and how.”
The U.N. said on Monday that it had received only 6 percent of the $864 million requested in a global appeal.
And Where Is The U.S.?
During Guterres’ visit this week, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called for the help of an old ally, with whom the Horn of Africa nation shares a long and troubled history ― the United States.
Thousands of Somali refugees will also be affected by Trump’s revised ban, which suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days. Nearly 15,000 Somali refugees who had planned to resettle in the U.S. are currently stranded in Kenya’s Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.
“Definitely we will prefer to see that this travel ban should be lifted and, of course, we have to communicate with the U.S. government because as everyone knows we have a large Somali community in the United States who I’m sure have contributed to the U.S. economy,” Mohamed, who holds both U.S. and Somali citizenship, told reporters, according to The Associated Press.
Somalis, he added, “have contributed to the U.S. economy and the U.S. society in different ways, and we have to talk about what the Somali people have contributed rather than a few people who may cause a problem.”
Somalia is one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Civil war has raged in the country for more than two decades. And climate change has, in recent years, brought increasing drought ― and food insecurity ― to the region.
“We need to make as much noise as possible,” Guterres said this week, calling for global assistance for millions of suffering Somalis. “Conflict, drought, climate change, disease, cholera. The combination is a nightmare.”
Somalia is not the only nation in East Africa and the surrounding region suffering from the effects of drought. Almost 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk of death” from severe malnutrition this year as famine looms in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, UNICEF said in February. The map below shows the extent of food insecurity across the region.
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