SOMALIA: CRIPPLING DROUGHT FORCES NEARLY HALF A MILLION PEOPLE FROM THEIR HOMES SO FAR THIS YEAR WITH CHILD HUNGER SOARING
BAIDOA, Somalia, 28 March, 2022 – Somalia’s worst drought in decades has forced more than 450,000 people to abandon their homes in search of food and water in the first 10 weeks of this year, Save the Children said. As these figures continue to rise rapidly, and access to food and water stretches further out of reach for communities, child malnutrition is also on the up, leading to tragic loss of lives.
Somalia, one of the world’s most vulnerable places to the impacts of the climate crisis, is battling its third major drought in a decade, affecting land in about 90% of the country and a quarter of the 16-million strong population.
Some areas are seeing their driest conditions in 40 years, raising fears of a repeat of the deadly 2011 famine that killed about 260,000, half of whom were children under the age of five.
With the UN’s international humanitarian appeal for funding only raising 3.8% of as $1.46 billion so far, Save the Children is calling on the international community to urgently step up funding efforts to avoid the same mistakes made a decade ago and plunging Somalia into further catastrophe.
Save the Children said the drought and move to hastily-built displacement camps was causing a spike in malnutrition and other illnesses, with UN estimates that 1.4 million children[i] could be acutely malnourished by the middle of the year– up 64% from two years ago - with 330,000 severely malnourished if the deteriorating situation was not addressed[ii].
Already local health teams are reporting the loss of lives.
Aamina*, 50, a farmer, said the death of all her livestock and fears for the health of her nine children and four grandchildren drove her to move to a camp near the southern port of Kismayo, where they can access food, water, health and nutrition services.
Aamina* is one of about 30,000 people now living across two camps built in Luglow last October as the drought extended south into Jubaland state. New arrivals to the camps are rising daily, Save the Children said, making their journeys along the dusty road from Kismayo to Luglow, where carcasses of dead cattle and donkeys lie decaying on the arid flats.
A Save the Children supported mobile health unit working in the camp reported eight child deaths from malnutrition in the past month.
Aamina*, sitting outside one of hundreds of dome-shaped shelters made from branches and covered with tarpaulin and cloth in the camp, said: “This is one of the worst droughts I have ever seen. We are used to seeing droughts in Somalia but this one is different. It is getting worse and we have lost everything. For three years we have not seen a good rain.
“I can’t predict what is going to happen next but I don’t think we can ever go back as we have nothing. If we are sick we can do nothing. Now we need better shelter and if we get support we could try to start again in the city. That is my biggest wish now.”
With the number of people forced from their homes projected to reach up to 1.4 million this year[iii] as the drought worsens, Save the Children is concerned about clean water, sanitation, and health at many of the 5,000 displacement camps now across Somalia. Medical staff employed by the organisation at Kismayo Regional Hospital said the number of children being admitted had trebled from a year ago with more cases of malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Fatima*, 28, had just arrived at the hospital with her one-year-old son Yusuf* who was suffering from a range of health issues including malnutrition and oedema. She had travelled 160km to the hospital, leaving her four other children behind, to seek treatment.
“I had nowhere else to go and it was a long way to get here but he is so sick. I have nothing to give him. I feel so helpless. I am praying he will recover,” she said.
An estimated 4.3 million people – or one quarter of the population – are now impacted by the drought that comes after three failed rainy seasons. The next rains are due in April but forecasts are currently suggesting below average rainfall.
The deteriorating situation is also likely to be further impacted by the war in Ukraine driving up food prices and transport costs for key imports such as wheat flour, sugar and cooking oil.
Save the Children said funding was urgently needed to provide life-saving support for families across Somalia to stop a repeat of the 2011 drought that became a deadly famine.
Save the Children said that children are admitted to health services in time, they can be treated for malnutrition and diarrhoea, while medical teams can also focus on health care for mothers and encourage breastfeeding to aid children’s health.
Save the Children’s Country Director for Somalia, Mohamud Mohamed Hassan, said:
“We are witnessing a climate disaster unfolding before us. Somalia has always had droughts every 10 years or so but these back-to-back droughts mean people do not have the time to recover in between and re-establish crops or livestock. This is why this situation has now reached crisis levels – with nearly the entire country affected by this drought. We need to act now to avert the famine we saw in 2011 which took 260,000 lives, half of whom were tiny children.
“We have seen a major decline in how the government and the international community is responding to this crisis. We know there are many competing crises globally and Ukraine is likely to overwhelm the agenda and donors, but children here are now facing severe malnutrition with more and more at acute risk of death. We cannot abandon them - and we can save them if we act now.”
Save the Children has worked in Somalia for over 70 years, since 1951, and is a national and international leader in humanitarian and development programming in health, nutrition, education, child protection and child rights governance. In 2021, Save the Children reached 3,334,525 people in Somalia, including more than 1,877,671 children.
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Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM); Severe acute malnutrition is defined by a very low weight for height (below -3z scores of the median WHO growth standards) or by a very low Mid Upper Arm circumference, or by the presence of nutritional oedema.
[iii] Somalia drought: 1.4 million people may be forced from their homes, preventative action needed now - Somalia | ReliefWeb. This UN estimate includes areas that are inaccessible as they are under the control of armed groups.