The twin granddaughters of Halima Hasan Abdullahi lie beneath two mounds of earth surrounded by chopped thorny branches. Ebla and Abdia lived for only one day.
Weakened by hunger, their mother gave birth to twins a month early, eight weeks after their exhausted family was taken to a displaced person camp in the Somali town of Dollow. “She is malnourished, and two of her babies have died of starvation,” Abdullahi said at the Kakari camp, which started in January and can now accommodate 13,000 people.
A total of over 6 million Somalis rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. After no rain for four consecutive seasons, the worst drought in 40 years dried up their beans and corn and littered the bush with the carcasses of their goats and donkeys.
Amid worldwide attention on Ukraine, aid agencies and the UN are desperate to draw attention to a disaster they say could be compared to the 2011 Somali famine. The majority of the victims were children under five years old. There is only enough money for about half of the people in the Kaksari camp. Unfortunately, the Abdullahi family is not one of the lucky ones.
It hadn’t seen anything like it since the early 1990s, when a famine helped spark a disastrous US military intervention in Somalia, ending in the notoriously downing of a Black Hawk helicopter. But, according to her, her family had never had to leave their land before.
Abdullahi supports 13 members of his family by washing clothes in the city, earning about $1.50 a day. This allows everyone to eat one handful of corn porridge a day. But this is not enough. Her daughter-in-law needs typhoid medicine, which costs ten times Abdullahi’s daily salary.
So, the girl lies listlessly on the blanket, a skinny baby squirming against her chest. Lying in the dirt nearby is a red high-heeled shoe with a diamond buckle, one of the few things she took from their sun-scorched home. Now she is too weak even to say her name.
‘SO MUCH PAIN’
Early intervention is crucial to preventing a famine looming over Somalia’s six districts of about 15 million people in a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Since food was delivered quickly in 2017, the 2017 drought cost fewer than 1,000 lives. However, it was worse than the 2011 drought that caused famine. But speed costs money. And he’s in short supply.
So far, 2.8 million people have received assistance. Another 3.1 million could be helped if more money came in.
The rest are out of reach, living in the scorched depths dominated by the Islamist insurgency. “We need money to prevent the risk of famine,” said Rukia Yacoub, deputy director of the World Food Program for East Africa. At the camp, people build houses out of orange tarpaulins and scraps of cloth and plastic strung over stick domes.
Hammers echo as aid workers set up cesspits with sheets of corrugated iron. The newcomers gather around the tents, where help desk staff tell them there is no help. Instead, many families end up asking for a cup of food or a few pennies from those who are marginally better but arrive early enough to register for help.
Hunger often weakens children before disease consumes them. Asha Ali Osman, 25, lost her three-year-old and four-year-old children to measles a month ago.
Now she cradles her youngest, a baby while waiting for the girl to be vaccinated in Dollow. “It hurts so much because I can’t even breastfeed her,” she said softly. “When my children are hungry, I can ask a neighbour for water with sugar. Sometimes we just lie down together and cry.”
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