Arbay Mahad Qasim has already seen two of his children die of starvation at 18 months, victims of the endless drought that is overwhelming Somalia. As the situation only gets worse, she is now fighting to save her daughter, Ifrah.
In her twenties, the young woman wasted no time as 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 Banadir Maternity and Children’s Hospital, she was with dozens of other parents who experienced the same anguish as her. Some have been walking for days to save their child.
For several months, Somalia has been plunged into a severe food crisis caused by an unprecedented drought for at least 40 years, which is also affecting neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.
Humanitarian organizations continue to warn of the risk – more real every day – of famine in the region.
The last four rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have been inadequate, and today 7.1 million Somalis, almost half of the population, live in starvation, of which 213,000 are on the brink of starvation, according to the UN.
– Overwhelmed hospital –
In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Somalis – who live mainly on 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,” said Khadija Mohamed Hassan, who brought her 14-month-old son Bilal to the hospital, placed on infusions.
“I’m 45 years old and I’ve 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, the number of patients arriving due to malnutrition at the hospital’s stabilization center with the drought 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 supported Banadir Hospital since 2017, the situation is becoming critical.
“Between January and June, the number of children admitted to Banadir Hospital’s Stabilization Center with severe malnutrition and other complications increased from 120 to 230 per month,” he explains.
– “We can not 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 for 15 years been confronted with the Islamist uprising of the shebab, whose establishment in large rural areas of the country restricts access to humanitarian aid to the population.
The raging war in Ukraine also has a dramatic impact on the lives of Somalis, who have seen food prices rise.
With the world’s focus on Ukraine, humanitarian organizations are struggling to raise funds. They raised only 18% of the estimated $ 1.5 billion needed to stave off a recurrence of the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, half of them children under the age of six.
“We can not wait for a famine to be declared to act,” the director of the World Food Program in Somalia, El-Khidir Daloum, said on Monday.
Last week, newly elected President Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud visited a camp for displaced people near Baidoa in the southwestern part of the country.
“Anyone who has a plate of food on their table today should keep in mind that the baby is crying somewhere due to hunger and help them in any way they can,” he urged.
At Banadir Hospital, Khadija Mohamed Hassan watches over his fragile Bilal and remains hopeful: “We’ve been here for thirteen days, he looks better now”.