Somalia’s Drought Once Again Has Thousands on the Move

Tears fill Sahra Muse’s eyes as she stares at her severely malnourished son, his thin arms crossed over his bloated stomach.

Before he succumbed to hunger, 7-year-old Ibrahim Ali had helped his mother herd the family’s 30 cows on their farm in Toratorow, a village in Lower Shabelle region. But the family lost all they had to the growing drought.

The 32-year-old Muse walked for three days to reach this wind-swept camp 13 kilometers (8 miles) south of Somalia’s capital earlier this week, leaving behind her other three children and their father. “Life is becoming so hard. We have nothing to survive, and I don’t know how long he will survive,” Muse said of her son. She sat in a small hut made of sticks. Rubbing her bloodshot eyes, she said the boy’s cries had kept her awake for days.

The Garasbaley camp was set up by local villagers to help the desperate but they are waiting for an international agency to provide food to help the hungry. With no food at the camp and no money for transport, Muse is preparing another day’s hike to the capital, Mogadishu, to help her son. He survived the 2011 drought that killed roughly a quarter of a million people in Somalia and she is desperate to save him again.

Somalia’s current drought is threatening half of the country’s population, or about 6 million people, according to the United Nations. Aid agencies have scaled up efforts but say more support is urgently needed.

The emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make up what the United Nations calls the world’s largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years. Africa’s hunger crisis strikes as President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would pull the U.S. from its traditional role as the world’s largest donor to emergencies.

The crisis has once again uprooted hundreds of thousands of people across Somalia, which already has a sprawling diaspora of 2 million people after a quarter-century of conflict.

Drought-stricken families are on the move, trying to reach points where international aid agencies are distributing food. The agencies cannot distribute food in areas under the control of al-Shabab, Somalia’s homegrown Islamic extremist rebels who are affiliated to al-Qaida. Somalia’s fragile central government struggles to assert itself beyond the capital and other limited areas.

Between November and the end of February, around 257,000 people in this Horn of Africa nation have been internally displaced because of the drought, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Some are moving to urban areas, others into neighboring countries.

Each day, dozens of new arrivals come into this camp. Exhausted and starving women hold children crying from hunger, sheltering in huts to avoid the scorching sun. Unable to breastfeed, all they can do is swaddle the children with pieces of fabric and rock them to try to calm them to sleep.

They see nowhere else to go, and no aid so far has reached them.

Aydrus Salah watched his wife die of hunger on their way to the camp. Feeling helpless, he carried his three children on a two-day long trek from their hometown of Yaqbariweyne.So far, no food has been offered to him at the camp, he said. He barely sleeps and when he does he has nightmares since his wife died of hunger on the trek to the camp.

“I really become very emotional when I remember my wife dying in front of me,” the 30-year-old said, in tears.

His animals, including goats and cattle, that served as their sole income also have perished.

“I had no other option but to leave,” Salah said, carrying one of his children near his newly erected hut. “We finally arrived here, and the suffering still continues.”

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