Somalia on the brink of another brutal famine, children bearing the brunt

It’s morning in a hospital in Dolow, Somalia.

Inside the stabilization center, a room where malnourished children receive specialized treatment, there are no free beds.

Mothers watch over their babies. They poke the sleepy with scarves, rearrange the delicate limbs of the finicky, and entice the most alert to take sips of baby formula.

(Lily Martin/CBC)

At the bedside of one-year-old Miida, Dr. Abdulaziz Osman cautiously raises his frail arm, checking for a pulse. She suffers, like so many other children here, from severe acute malnutrition.

dr abdulaziz osman

(Lily Martin/CBC)

This is the third time she has been here, but return visits are not uncommon, says the doctor.

dr abdulaziz osman with miida

(Lily Martin/CBC)

Her mother, Fadumo, brings a cup of formula milk to Miida’s lips, asking her to drink, but she rejects it with what little energy she has in her body. The doctor will have to decide today if the child should be put on a feeding tube.

While most of the world’s eyes have turned elsewhere this year, Somalia has sunk deeper into crisis. A famine strikes.

somali refugee camp

(Lily Martin/CBC)

The country is in the midst of its fifth failed rainy season, resulting in the worst drought it has seen in nearly half a century. It has decimated the crops and farm animals that so many Somalis depend on for their livelihoods.

Other countries in the Horn of Africa have also been hit hard by drought in recent years, but none appear to be on such a dire trajectory as Somalia, where extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change are further aggravated by conflicts.

animal skeleton in somalia

(Lily Martin/CBC)

Al Shabaab, the militant Islamist group known for its suicide and other attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries, controls large swaths of the country, making access to entire regions dangerous and difficult for humanitarian groups.

somali refugee camp

(Adrian DiVirgilio/CBC)

Massive displacements caused by drought and violence have forced thousands of refugees to make long journeys to overcrowded camps like those in the Gedo region near the border with Ethiopia.

People arrive with next to nothing – one mother told us that the only precious things she has left are her children.

hut in somalia refugee camp

(Lily Martin/CBC)

When we met Abdullahi Hassan, 60, he was watching four of his grandchildren in a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Luuq.

Hassan welcomed us into the shelter where the family of eight lives and sleeps. They had been in the camp for two weeks, having left home when the rains failed and all their cattle were wiped out.

abdullahi hassan and family

(Lily Martin/CBC)

« We fled when things got out of control, » he said. « We fled for dear life. »

He was worried about his family. He didn’t think they could survive 10 more days if things continued like this. Three-year-old Sowda had a dry cough, but it was her youngest grandson, Qeys, and daughter who were in the city center hospital, where Qeys was being treated for malnutrition.

nuuriyo and qeys in hospital

(Lily Martin/CBC)

« I don’t eat well, because we don’t have much, » Hassan’s daughter Nuuriyo told us at the hospital. « I had no food to eat, so there weren’t many nutrients in the breast milk, and there wasn’t enough breast milk for him. »

somali girl in front of hut

(Lily Martin/CBC)

UNICEF estimates that since August, one child has been sent to hospital for malnutrition every minute in Somalia. The last famine in the country, in 2011, killed more than a quarter of a million people, half of them children.

somali boy

(Lily Martin/CBC)

Aid organizations operating in the country have been sounding the alarm for months, and although a famine has yet to be officially declared in 2022, those working on the ground say waiting for statistics is a waste of time. precious time.

somali kids in camp

(Lily Martin/CBC)

« If a lesson were to be learned from 2011, if you argue about whether it’s famine or not, you’re already too late and people are dying, » said Paul Healy, Somalia country director for Trócaire, the Irish charity that runs the stabilization centers and other outreach programs in the Gedo area.

Trócaire receives funding from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Canadian government.

« Lives are being lost, children in particular, and wondering if the data is up to date is not enough because you won’t get the data in some of the hardest to reach areas. [places] and regions that suffer the most. »

stabilization centre in somalia

(Lily Martin/CBC)

The day after our first visit to the stabilization center in Dolow, we came back to check on Miida.

A feeding tube had been attached and Dr. Osman was at her bedside again. Miida had been weakened by vomiting and her healthcare team was still trying to treat the dehydration and pneumonia that was ravaging her body.

miida 2

(Lily Martin/CBC)

In the end, Miida’s defenses were too degraded and the complications too many. She died a day later.

Osman fears that Somalia will be forgotten. He said more help was needed from the international community to build resilience to the drought and prevent children from going hungry in the first place.

« We are focused on treating these children, but if you don’t address the root causes, the vicious circle will continue. »

WATCH | Drought threatens the survival of millions of people in Somalia:

Millions in Somalia face hunger as drought continues

Somalia missed its fifth consecutive rainy season, forcing many people to abandon their farms. More than seven million people face food insecurity in the country.

With files from Margaret Evans


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