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Farhan: the story of one child in Somalia

The prolonged drought in Somalia has exposed hundreds of thousands of families to starvation

Farhan takes an appetite test in Somalia after receiving treatment for being malnourished Photo: Canadian Foodgrains Bank Farhan takes an appetite test in Somalia after receiving treatment for being malnourished Photo: Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Because of the ongoing drought in Somalia, eight-month-old Farhan Weheliye and his family – his parents and two-year-old sibling – were forced to move from their home in Qalaf Dhere village to find a better life.

Currently the family is living in an internally displaced people (IDP) camp in Belet Hawa near the Kenyan border, but they are struggling to make ends meet. There is no stable means of income in the camp and although his father works casual jobs, he’s only able to bring in $1 to $2 a day, not enough to meet their basic needs.

Even before the drought, $1 to $2 a day would not have been enough to support a family. But with inflation skyrocketing in the country, it leaves people living with painful hunger.

The prolonged drought has exposed hundreds of thousands of families to starvation and weakened immunity, putting them on the verge of famine. Children under five are at particular risk and over 1.8 million Somali children are at risk of malnutrition, with 513,000 likely to be severely malnourished. While humanitarian agencies are trying to respond to the catastrophe, food insecurity is expected to worsen in the months to come.

This year, Farhan was just one of the hundreds of children admitted to the Khalil hospital stabilisation centre with severe malnutrition and additional medical complications. Weighing a mere 4.6 kg, he also had a cough and fever, and was severely dehydrated. When babies are living with food insecurity, an important indicator of health is the circumference of their upper arms. This little boy was so small, his upper arms were less than 10 cm in circumference.

As soon as he was admitted, medical personnel started Farhan on medication, rehydrated his frail body with IV fluids, and administered antimalarials and antibiotics.

Because of weakened immunity triggered by the inability to access nutrition, many children (as well as pregnant and lactating women) are at extreme risk of becoming severely malnourished. And with so many people living in these IDP camp settings, there is poor sanitation that leads to infectious and communicable diseases.

“The weather is harsh; life is more difficult for the children, they are very thin and sick most of the time due to lack of food and extreme weather conditions at night and day,” says Farhan’s mother Siman Sokorow.

Due to the large influx of IDPs and limited humanitarian resources, the emergency nutrition services provided by the Trócaire health units (supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank) is so important as the family hasn’t been able to receive other humanitarian supports at this time.

To boost his immunity, Farhan was fed therapeutic milk and was continuously monitored for two weeks until he stabilized. In early November, he was discharged having gained 1.1 kg. Although still small, the circumference of his upper arms were now measuring 11.2 cm.

But the support doesn’t end there. Farhan was transferred to the Trócaire-supported outpatient treatment program. Until he’s fully recovered, Farhan will continue to receive weekly assessments to receive nutritional supplements including high-energy ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary food.

“He has been sick and weak most of the time, but after the treatment he has improved, he can now play and run around, thanks to Trócaire and all those involved for the invaluable support,” says Sokorow.

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