Somalia: Begging for Water
Photography: Khadija Farah for Action Against Hunger, Somalia
Communities in rural Somalia make their living through agriculture and raising livestock: 80 percent of the population depends on small-scale farming to survive. Many are nomadic pastoralists, raising livestock and moving seasonally to find pasture with their herds. But after season after season of failed rains in a row, there is no longer any pasture to be found, and animals are dying. Two years of intense drought, combined with conflict, poverty, and weak infrastructure, have pushed the country into a massive hunger emergency that threatens to become a famine.
A normal rainy season consists of steady, daily rains for two to three months, but this entire season, parts of the country have received just five days of rain. The primary rainy season—the one families were counting on for the health of their crops and livestock—is failing. Across Somalia, crop production is 90 percent below what it would be in a normal year. Communities desperate for relief are facing a terrifying fact: there is not enough water to keep animals, crops, or people alive.
Large numbers of people in rural areas have been left with no choice but to abandon their homes and trek long distances to towns or cities in search of food and water. Since November, an estimated 615,000 people have been displaced, and that number grows every day. Traveling in remote southern Somalia can mean putting your life at risk: it’s long and especially difficult for families with young children and facing violence from armed groups along the way is a real possibility.
Hawo Abdi, a 29-year-old widow and mother of five children, was a farmer whose arid lands suffered from the severe drought. She told us:
“Back home, I had a farm where we grew maize for the family to eat—and we always had enough to eat. But the rains failed for four seasons; we could not cope anymore.”
“The children have no food or milk”
In search of food and water, Hawo and her children left their home in Alafuto, in Lower Shabelle, and made the two-day journey to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. While on the move, she did not know where the next meal would come from or if she would find access to clean drinking water. As water sources dry up and hygiene conditions worsen, the risk of deadly waterborne diseases such as severe diarrhea or cholera increases. There have been massive cholera outbreaks in Somalia this year, and in towns and urban areas, where families have to purchase their water, prices have recently quadrupled, costing them the equivalent of between five to twenty dollars for a supply of 200 liters of water.
Hawo remembers how hard the trip was: “We stayed without food for several days. We had nothing to take with us, and we had to beg for water.”
Hawo’s husband died when she was two months pregnant with her youngest child; she had to make the journey while expecting a baby, which was scary and difficult. She and her children have been living in the Kaxda camp for internally displaced people outside Mogadishu for a month.
“It has been difficult without my husband. He would help me a lot. Now we have no money. The children have no food or milk,” Hawo says.
Every month, Action Against Hunger’s Emergency Nutrition Stabilization Center in Hodan
admits 60 severely malnourished children for urgent inpatient treatment and
treats 150 severely malnourished children through outpatient programs.
Photo: Khadija Farah for Action Against Hunger, Somalia
Hawo’s baby son, Ali, became emaciated and severely malnourished. He was not even six months old.
“I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I felt like I failed as a mother. But another mother told me to go to the stabilization center because she had a child who sick for the same reason and got treatment. So I ran here as fast as I could,” says Hawo.
Action Against Hunger, with support from UKAid, runs an emergency nutrition stabilization center in Hodan, Mogadishu, which provides urgent treatment for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Some children, like Hawo’s son Ali, are so ill they require intensive, inpatient care in the stabilization center to save their lives. Other children, whose cases are not as severe or advanced, can be treated with lifesaving outpatient care with weekly monitoring and follow up.
To Hawo’s relief, Ali was immediately admitted to the stabilization center. Hawo was still nursing Ali, who was not old enough to eat solid food, but because Hawo was not getting adequate food and water herself, and had also experienced stress and trauma, her body was not producing enough milk. When Action Against Hunger’s nutrition specialists assessed Ali, he was so ill he had no appetite, and he was not able to swallow. They admitted him for inpatient care, and treated him with special therapeutic milk designed for severely malnourished children under the age of six months. Ali is responding well and, each day, he gets stronger and healthier.
Hawo and the rest of her family are ready to bring Ali home. Today, home is a makeshift shelter in a settlement camp for people displaced by the drought. “We don’t have a good shelter. We use pieces of cloth and small plastic bags to cover the roof. I worry that my other children will get sick,” says Hawo.
Action Against Hunger was able to save Ali’s life and deliver help to Hawo, but right now, there are an estimated 363,000 children in Somalia suffering from malnutrition. Half of Somalia’s population—more than six million people—requires urgent humanitarian assistance. The needs are overwhelming, and our teams are racing against time to prevent famine and the spread of 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. 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.