Extreme Weather And War Starve Somalia As Famine Declaration Looms

In the camps for displaced people in Dolow, southern Somalia, there are things that look like children’s games, but in reality, they are signs of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the country.

Here children control cylindrical balls instead of soccer balls, yellow drums that they roll on the ground with their bare feet. They fill them in the crowded points where humanitarian organisations have installed taps from which flows the liquid that the sky has denied them for so long.

They advance with short passes to their huts, made of twisted dry sticks and covered with tarpaulins, which form a vast colourful stain in this flat and arid land, one that is expanding on a daily basis with a relentless trickle of families fleeing a deadly combination of Islamist extremism and the worst drought the Horn of Africa has seen in 40 years. Here, balls are not balls and swings are not swings.

The closest thing to one can be found at the entrance of the precarious Trócaire hospital: a black plastic bucket hanging from four ropes tied to a scale attached to a wooden frame.

The swaying of the swing elicits no reaction from its occupant, four-year-old Rahma. Lack of interest in play is one of the telltale signs of a malnourished child. The measuring tape attached to her arm, an instrument used by health workers to detect malnutrition in children, confirms what her half-drooping eyelids and disarming expressionlessness had already conveyed.

The tape stretches across less than 11 centimetres of her bicep.  Red: severe malnutrition.

Now Rahma is lying in one of the beds inside the hospital, which has had to be expanded by means of a tent to keep up with demand. Next to her, her mother, Fatima Hussein, 30, explains that Rahma “has never been a smiling child. She’s always been sick, she doesn’t play with her siblings, she’s always been like that,” she says in a whisper lost in the crying of babies as she gently chases flies away from Rahma’s face with one end of her hijab.

The drought ruined the small parcel of land the family cultivated and killed what little livestock they had. After her second son died, Fatima realised they had to flee. Three days in a cart pulled by two starving donkeys loaded with their meagre belongings, past jihadist checkpoints, until they reached the Ladam refugee camp in Dolow.

Along the way she lost a third son. Fatima is reluctant for Rahma, the second-youngest of her six remaining children, to meet the same fate. “The situation is still very hard. It hasn’t rained in the two years we’ve been here. But I will do my best to get her healthy. And when she is healthy, she will be happy for sure.”

The rains that won’t come

Somalia has two rainy seasons per year and, in a society where subsistence farming reigns supreme, thousands of households are pushed to the limit if the waters do not come.

The past five rainy seasons have failed to materialise, and no one is particularly optimistic the next one will be any different. At least 3.8 million Somalis have abandoned their homes and many are crowded into displacement camps like the five that have sprouted up around Dolow.

The UN estimates that by this summer, there will be 1.8 million children under the age of five who are severely malnourished. In 2011, Somalia suffered what is considered the worst famine the world has seen in the 21st century.

A total of 260 000 people died. On that occasion, there were only three rainless monsoon seasons. Experts are under no doubt that the situation is a consequence of climate change. Science shows that droughts and other extreme events, such as torrential rains, are now more frequent.
The natural disaster cycle is narrowing. The phenomenon – provoked by the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries – is taking its toll on Somalia despite the fact that it generates barely the level of CO₂ emissions produced by a tiny country like Andorra.

Lack of rainfall is also hitting other countries in the Horn of Africa hard, such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

About Dalsan Editor

View all posts by Dalsan Editor

Leave a Reply