Enduring Drought in Somalia: Yareeyo’s Story

Somalia is suffering from the devastating impact of a prolonged and worsening drought, caused by three seasons of failed rains during 2015 and 2016, as well as by unusually hot temperatures and other changes in weather patterns linked to the “El Nino” phenomena. Communities in rural Somalia make their living through agriculture and raising livestock: in fact, 80 percent of the population depends on small-scale farming to survive. During times of extended severe drought, crops fail, livestock die, and people suffer. In 2011, drought and conflict triggered a famine in Somalia that caused the deaths of an estimated 250,000 people.

Today, two years of intense drought—and the impact of more than two decades of civil conflict that destroyed infrastructure for health, water, markets, and schools—have once again pushed the country into a massive hunger emergency. The United Nations has warned that unless a huge global response is mobilized immediately, Somalia will spiral into famine, and more than 360,000 children could face starvation. Right now, half of Somalia’s population—more than six million people—is experiencing acute food insecurity. Action Against Hunger is one of very few humanitarian organizations responding to the massive hunger crisis in parts of Somalia, meeting the urgent daily survival needs of families and children like two-year-old Yareeyo.

“I thought I was going to lose my child”

Yareeyo, her siblings, and her parents, Halimo and Abshir, live in the Bakool region in southwest Somalia. They are extremely poor, and have been badly affected by the drought. For more than two weeks, Yareeyo had been suffering from coughs, fever, and lack of appetite. Throughout Bakool, and most of Somalia, communities have little, if any, access to health care services due to entrenched poverty and the more than 22 years of conflict that have made the country one of the world’s most fragile and underdeveloped. Yareeyo’s parents, Halimo and Abshir, had very few resources, and did not know where to turn to get their daughter help.  They tried taking her to a traditional healer, but Yareeyo’s condition did not improve.

Halimo saw her baby’s health deteriorate further and further, but she was determined to find a way to save her. She learned that there was an Action Against Hunger team supporting an emergency nutrition program (supported by UK Aid) in the village of to El Barde. Halimo decided to make the long journey to El Barde on foot to try to save her daughter’s life, even though it would take days.

“The drought was killing our livestock, which we depend on to live. With no income and not enough food, our family was suffering. My daughter Yareeyo’s condition was getting worse,” said Halimo. “I thought I was going to lose my child.”

Halimo’s decision to travel to the health center supported by Action Against Hunger meant that she had to sell two goats so that she would have enough to make the journey. Her husband Abshir stayed behind to look after their other children. “In the area where we live, one of us has to always stay with the children. On their own, it is too dangerous. They could get lost and eaten by the hyenas,” said Halimo.

When Halimo arrived at the Action Against Hunger stabilization center in El Barde, Yareeyo was emaciated, underweight, lethargic, and weak. She was diagnosed with life-threatening severe acute malnutrition and immediately admitted for inpatient therapeutic care.

After five days of intensive care, including tube-feeding and doses of antibiotics, Yareeyo’s condition began to improve. Soon, she was stable enough for the nurses to remove the feeding tube, and she was able to start drinking special therapeutic milk. In a little over a week, Yareeyo had recovered enough to be discharged from inpatient treatment, and she was referred to an outpatient treatment program for ongoing care and monitoring.

Abdinur, one of the nurses at the El Barde stabilization center supported by Action Against Hunger, said, “Yareeyo’s case was complicated because she suffered not only from severe malnutrition, but also from a cleft lip and palate, which made her treatment difficult. We had to feed her through a nasogastric tube to get her the essential nutrients to save her life. On the third day of this treatment, she showed a visible improvement, and we could even see signs that she was playful.”

Halimo holds her daughter Yareeyo at the El Bardo stabilization center. Photo: Khadija Farah for Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Responding to overwhelming needs

Just helping Yareeyo recover was not enough, however. Action Against Hunger wanted to address the root causes of Yareeyo’s severe malnutrition at home. Our team learned that Yareeyo’s family had lost most of their livestock because of the drought, and were struggling to meet their basic survival needs because of rising food prices and lack of income. Yareeyo’s parents, Harimo and Abshir, are now enrolled in Action Against Hunger’s food security and livelihoods program in their community, which will give them a source of food and income as a safety net until they are able to recover from the drought.

We were able to provide a lifeline to assist Yareeyo and her family, but half of Somalia’s population faces a worsening and alarming crisis. The needs are overwhelming, and our teams are racing against time to save the lives of thousands of children at risk of starvation and other deadly illnesses such as cholera.

Our top priority is to provide lifesaving treatment for severely malnourished children and to protect the health of vulnerable pregnant women and nursing mothers. In the weeks ahead, we aim to reach 30,000 people with emergency screening and treatment for severe malnutrition. We are ready to assist more than 200,000 people in our initial emergency response. In some areas within Somalia, Action Against Hunger is the only organization providing assistance to communities.

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About Action Against Hunger USA

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Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. We save the lives of malnourished children. We ensure families can access clean water, food, training, and health care. We enable entire communities to be free from hunger.