A distribution of hygiene kits to displaced women in Somalia.

Drought and Displacement: Somalia Faces a Disaster in the Making

Over the next six months, an estimated 1.4 million people in Somalia are expected to be displaced by drought and conflict. This surge of people is stretching the capacity of host communities and putting a strain on resources and services.

In displacement camps, people are sleeping on floors in squalid conditions. Without enough space and poor sanitation increase the chance of disease outbreaks and food scarcity. Although most camps receive humanitarian support, the situation is deteriorating daily as the number of people seeking refuge increases significantly.

“People keep on coming, especially women with sick children,” says Abdullahi Hussein, camp leader and resident of the Raamidey Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Baidoa. “We do not wish for things to deteriorate further.”

What shelter looks like in some displacement camps in Somalia.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Months into a severe drought, the cost of clean water and food has risen significantly. Displaced families have lost their primary income sources – many were herders who saw their livestock die due to lack of water and pasture. Most cannot afford to buy the essentials. As the drought continues, nomadic and rural life has become unsustainable.

The last rainy season failed to bring enough precipitation to the region, making agricultural activities impossible. No harvests are expected. In the town of Baidoa, in southwestern Somalia, water levels are so low that water now has to be trucked in – an expensive last resort for authorities and humanitarian organizations.

Since December, displacement camps in Somalia’s urban areas have seen an influx of people from neighboring nomadic communities and rural villages. Most of the newly displaced have lost their livelihoods, and some have trekked nearly 150 miles in search of food, water, and shelter in major towns such as Baidoa, Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Galkacyo.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Action Against Hunger supports people living in displacement camps, as well as vulnerable members of host communities. In five of these camps, our teams have repaired and improved wells to try to keep up with the increased need for water, but still, shortages continue.

Sanitation in the crowded camps is poor, making them breeding grounds for disease. Outbreaks of illnesses like measles and acute watery diarrhea among children have been reported. These diseases are treatable and preventable, but water shortages exacerbate the health challenges.

"These taps and wells have previously supplied enough [water] to all households, yet with more people here, there isn’t enough water,” says Timiro, a resident of one of the displacement camps.

Action Against Hunger health workers complete a health screening.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

To reduce disease outbreaks, Action Against Hunger, in partnership with international partners including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, conducted a joint measles vaccination campaign in Baidoa in February, focusing on children under five years old in the displacement camps.

During the campaign, during which more than 82,000 children were vaccinated for measles, the health teams also screened for malnutrition. When a child was found to be malnourished, they were referred for treatment at the nearest health center. Many of the health and nutrition centers supported by Action Against Hunger have seen increases in the number of children admitted for severe malnutrition in recent months.

"With the current trend of increasing admission rates, our stabilization center will be overwhelmed due to limited space. We hope we won’t be forced to turn any severely malnourished child away," says Dr. Abdullahi, a physician at the Bayhaaw Health Center.

In December, one of Action Against Hunger’s stabilization centers admitted 22 children with complicated and severe cases of acute malnutrition. In January, this figure nearly doubled, to 41 cases, and the case numbers were even higher in February. Most cases of malnutrition were among children who had had measles, which weakens the body and makes recovery harder. This alarming trend is likely to worsen further in the coming weeks and months as food and water shortages continue.

18-month-old Abdirahman Ibdow and his mother at an Action Against Hunger Health Center in Somalia.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

18-month-old Abdirahman Ibdow and his family live in Haween village, about 40 miles from the town of Baidoa. They rely on their livestock to survive, but, after losing the few cattle they had because of the drought, Abdirahman’s mother couldn’t afford to buy him milk and other foods. His health deteriorated, and malnutrition caused him to develop skin conditions and his body to swell. Alarmed, his mother brought him to the Bayhaaw Health Center for care.

When he arrived, Abdirahman was quickly diagnosed and admitted for severe acute malnutrition. His condition was so severe that he was unable to consume food or even milk. Doctors gave him therapeutic formulas through a tube. Now, after weeks of treatment, he is able to eat again and play with other children. His mother loves to see his beaming smile again.

“Thanks to God, Abdirahman has improved a lot. I hope to see him grow like other children and become a teacher,” says Malabey Ibrahim, Abdirahman’s mother.

An Action Against Hunger team member speaks with displaced women.

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Action Against Hunger is providing water, food, and medical care to children and families, especially those living in displacement camps like Abdirahman, whose parents are unable to afford the basic food and nutrition necessary for their growth and health.

Last year alone, our teams served 960,784 people across Somalia with water, sanitation, food security, health, and nutrition services. As drought worsens and families continue to be displaced from their homes, we are preparing to reach even more people in 2022.

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.