‘Escape from hunger, but it continues to haunt us’

NOS News

  • Elles van Gelder

    correspondent Africa

  • Elles van Gelder

    correspondent Africa

Nowhere in Somalia is hunger greater than in the town of Baidoa. It is located in a place where it has not been as dry as it is now for forty years. In addition, Baidoa is in an area controlled by jihadists from the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. Drought and uncertainty have catastrophic consequences.

Drought, they know that in Somalia. The population is tough. The drought comes and goes. People build a buffer and climb back on top of it after the dry period. But now the dry periods replace each other. It hasn’t rained in two years. This means four missed rainy seasons.

It is a disaster for a country where the majority of the population lives by agriculture and especially by livestock. Millions of goats, sheep and cows have died because they could no longer find grass and water. More than a million people have fled the drought. Almost a quarter of them settled in Baidoa. Nomads arriving without livestock but with hungry children looking for help.

Africa correspondent Elles van Gelder and cameraman Sven Torfinn traveled to Baidoa. They visited a center where the most malnourished children are helped:

How hunger grips the city of Baidoa: ‘This child weighs 5.1 kilos’

40-year-old Adey sits in his hut, which is made of branches and clothes. “I was one of the last in my village to leave,” she says. “There’s nothing left in the countryside. At least there’s a clinic here.” Beside her are her children, malnourished and with measles. Her five-year-old daughter Eunice died just after they arrived in Baidoa.

A little further on, a similar story, about a mother who fled heavily pregnant. Baby Mustafa was born in the camp in Baidoa. But because she is malnourished herself, she was unable to breastfeed. “He died last night,” Dahabo Mukhtar says softly. “We fled from hunger, but hunger followed us here.”

According to UNICEF, up to and including July, more than 700 children died in so-called stabilization centers, clinics where medical staff try to save severely malnourished children. But Adey and Dahabo’s children did not even make it to the clinic. Many children die fleeing or parents are unable to get to places like Baidoa. There is no information about the situation in many villages, so the number of deaths will be many times higher.

  • Elles van Gelder

    A child is helped in a stabilization center
  • Elles van Gelder

    Families wait for help at the entrance to a stabilization center

Somalia is a vulnerable country where the problems are piling up: insecurity and drought are a disastrous combination. The fact that part of the country is in the hands of Al-Shabaab terrorists ensures that humanitarian aid cannot reach all places in Somalia.

On top of that, the country is also dealing with deforestation, overgrazing and rising food prices.

Imminent famine

For months, aid organizations and the UN have been warning of an imminent famine due to the ongoing drought. Aid money is slowly gaining momentum, partly because of ‘competitive’ crises such as the war in Ukraine.

They are now in a slightly better financial position until the end of the year, says Laura Turner from the World Food Programme, which is responsible for a large part of the emergency aid. But they have to prioritize, which is why their warehouse is mainly filled with food for malnourished children.

Between August this year and July next year, WFP estimates that 513,000 children will be severely malnourished. “But at some point it runs out,” she says of the boxes being loaded into a helicopter. And the longer it takes, the more we need.”

Drought and conflicts

There is great fear of a longer-lasting crisis and more child mortality. For the fifth rainy season also seems to be absent. “Many of the refugees will stay here,” said Nasir Abdi Arush, minister of humanitarian affairs in Baidoa. He has seen his city grow exponentially. Emergency help is needed, but he also fears the future.

“Climate change and Al-Shabaab threaten the traditional lives of our rural people. We need to look at new livelihoods and how we can deal with climate change in the long term.”

Somalia faces two evils: drought and conflict. Meanwhile, the new government, in power since May, appears to be mainly focused on ending terrorism. They have launched an offensive against Al-Shabaab. According to local minister Arush, they have no choice but to focus on safety first. “We are not a rich country. Security is our priority, only then can we reach our people with aid. We need to stabilize our country and create a climate for aid organizations to do their work.”

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