In her twenties, the young woman wasted no time when her two-year-old baby’s body began to swell, a symptom of severe malnutrition. She left her village of Afgooy Jiido to reach the capital Mogadishu in a day’s drive.
At the Banadir Maternity and Children’s Hospital, she found herself with dozens of other parents experiencing the same anguish as her. Some have walked for several days to save their child.
For months, Somalia has been sinking into a serious food crisis caused by a drought on an unprecedented scale for at least 40 years, which is also affecting the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.
Humanitarian organizations continue to warn about the risk – more real every day – of a famine in the region.
The last four rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have been insufficient and today 7.1 million Somalis, almost half of the population, live in hunger, of which 213,000 are on the brink of starvation, according to the UN.
In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Somalis – who live mainly from livestock and agriculture – have left their villages after seeing their last resources wiped out.
“The harvest did not take place. We lost our livestock. The river dried up,” says Khadija Mohamed Hassan, who brought her 14-month-old son Bilal to hospital, placed on infusions.
“I am 45 years old and I have never seen such a devastating drought in my life. We live in the worst conditions of our time,” she sighs.
At Banadir hospital, the staff is overwhelmed.
According to one of the doctors, Hafsa Mohamed Hassan, with the drought, the number of patients arriving for malnutrition at the hospital’s stabilization center has tripled. Some days the facility does not have enough beds to accommodate all the patients.
“The cases we receive include children suffering from complications (caused by malnutrition, editor’s note), such as acute measles, and others who are in a coma due to severe malnutrition,” she explains.
For Bishar Osman Hussein, of the NGO Concern Worldwide, which has been supporting Banadir hospital since 2017, the situation is becoming critical.
“Between January and June, the number of children admitted to the Banadir Hospital Stabilization Center with severe malnutrition and other complications increased from 120 to 230 per month,” he explains.
– “We can’t wait” –
Everyone fears that the next rainy season in October-November will fail again, further undermining this unstable country with its precarious infrastructure.
Somalia has been confronted for 15 years with the Islamist insurrection of the shebab, whose establishment in vast rural areas of the country limits the access of humanitarian aid to the populations.
The raging war in Ukraine is also having a dramatic impact on the lives of Somalis, who have seen food prices skyrocket.
With the world’s attention riveted on Ukraine, humanitarian organizations are struggling to raise funds. They collected only 18% of the estimated $1.5 billion needed to avert a repeat of the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, half of them children under the age of six.
“We cannot wait for a famine to be declared to act,” the director of the World Food Program in Somalia, El-Khidir Daloum, said on Monday.
Newly elected President Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud last week visited a camp for displaced people near Baidoa, in the south-west of the country.
“Anyone who has a plate of food on their table today should think of the child somewhere crying because of hunger and help them in any way they can,” he urged.
At the Banadir hospital, Khadija Mohamed Hassan watches over her frail Bilal and remains hopeful: “We have been here for thirteen days, he looks better now”.