In Dollow Health Referral Centre – one of several health facilities run by Trócaire – I sat down and spoke for a few moments with one mother who had just arrived with a critically ill baby. The infant girl was given the very best of care by our health team. But she died within two days. I will never forget that mother, and the pain that she is living through.
In a nearby internally displaced persons camp Xamdi, a community health worker supported by Trócaire, introduced me to mother of five, Nurto Abshiro. She left her home two months ago because the drought had meant no crops for over two years and had killed almost all of their livestock. Her husband stayed behind to tend to their few remaining animals.
Every day, Nurto leaves her youngest children in the care of her 10-year-old daughter Ahada, and goes to try to find daily labour so she can buy food. She said that she returns with nothing four out of seven days, and the family doesn’t eat. She has been displaced for two months and two of her children have already been treated for malnutrition. However, when discharged from the treatment programme they go back home to no food, and quickly become sick again.
This story is typical of what so many are facing in Somalia.
While I was in the country the UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, was in the capital Mogadishu where he repeated warnings we have heard from multiple agencies and experts over recent months of an unfolding humanitarian disaster. He said: “Famine is at the door, and today we are receiving a final warning.”
But from what I witnessed last week famine has already crossed the threshold in Somalia and is devastating communities in many parts of the country.
The Horn and East of Africa has been badly affected by the worst drought in over 40 years. Four successive rainy seasons have failed, and it look like the fifth will also fail. Over 20 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger.
Somalia is the worst affected country in this region. The statistics are frightening. But they are real.
Over seven million people, more than 40% of the population, are struggling to find food. The drought has led to the forced displacement of 800,000 people. An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five will experience acute malnutrition by October. That is the equivalent of every child and young person under the age of 25 in
Famine is only declared when a very high threshold of malnutrition and deaths from hunger has been reached and Martin Griffiths predicted that famine will occur in parts of Somalia between October and December.
Trócaire has been working in Gedo District in South-Central Somalia since 1992, delivering essential health services and humanitarian assistance to more than a quarter of a million people a year. We are the only international NGO to have remained in Gedo through 30 years of conflict and insecurity.
One of our longest serving staff in Gedo is Bahabo Ali a theatre nurse in Luug District hospital for 28 years. She has seen hundreds of newborn and very ill babies pass through her hands. She has also tended to hundreds of very ill mothers.
Bahabo is one of a number of strong, inspiring female Trócaire staff I was fortunate enough to meet during my visit. They are making such a difference, helping to save the lives of the critically ill babies and mothers every day. In fact, over 1,100 severely malnourished babies have already been saved this year.