Somali prime minister’s office said in a statement on Saturday (March 4) that 110 people have died in southern parts of the country in two days from famine and diarrhoea resulting from a drought, as the area braces itself for widespread shortages of food.
In February, United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said the drought in Somalia could lead to up to 270,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition this year.
In the southern city of Kismayo, mothers with their children have been streaming into the city’s stabilization center, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The center is one of the few places in south and central Somalia where malnourished children are being treated.
Fatuma Ali took Abdikaafi Jimaale, her five-month-old grandchild suffering from acute malnourishment, to the center. The child’s mother died after giving birth.
“I’m from the rural area, and the drought has led me here. The baby’s illness is why I came. I’m his grandmother, not his mother. He is the first-born child of my daughter who died,” said Ali.
At the stabilization center, the children are put on a special feeding program, receiving milk formula six to eight times a day. Children with complications, suffering from pneumonia or anemia, or lacking the strength to eat are are fed through nasal tubes at intensive care units.
The United Nations said in January five million Somalis, or more than four out of 10 people, do not have enough food because of drought and military conflict between the Islamist militant group al Shabaab and Somali government.
Famine last struck Somalia in 2011, killing 260,000 people. It was caused by drought, conflict and difficulties of delivering food aid to territories controlled by al Shabaab.
Both of Somalia’s 2016 rainy seasons were below average and the April to June 2017 rains are predicted to be poor, the U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) said.
“We work on a farm. But it’s really dry. The ground is really dry; can you grow anything? Nothing grows in that dry soil. Dry soil can’t produce. The parents eat the leftover food. If we don’t get anything (to eat) we sleep. We are grown-ups, we can survive. But the young children cannot,” said Sahra Osman, a drought victim.
Wages for casual labor are falling, a critical source of income for poor families which have lost livestock and crops.
“The last six months have been really bad. It feels like the 2011 drought crisis when refugees fled to Dadaab, (in Kenya). Then, around 50,000 people died of malnutrition. That is what is making people afraid because for the last four months the number of patients has risen constantly,” said Mohamed Gedi, a stabilization center officer at Kismayo General Hospital.
African Union and Somali troops have driven al Shabaab from major urban strongholds and ports ,making it easier for aid workers to access the drought-stricken areas. However smaller, more remote areas are still difficult to reach.