Somali children are starving and have no strength to complain
The hospital in Mogadishu is full of children exhausted by hunger. A child is lying on his hospital bed, Sadak Ibrahim has vague eyes. Flies are flying around his face, but he struggles to chase them away with his weak arm. The boy is so soft that he can hardly even cry.
Sadak is at the end of his strength, in need of food, his tears, more and more rare, are only a tenuous moan. “He is the only child I have, and he is very sick,” confides his mother Fadumo Daoud, contemplating the skeletal legs of her son and the food drip taped to his nose.
In order to save him, she traveled for three days from the Baidoa region in southwestern Somalia, the country hardest hit by the historic drought that is starving the Horn of Africa. At De Martino Hospital in Mogadishu, Fadumo Daoud watches over his son day and night and prays that he will not join the hundreds of children who have died in recent months from malnutrition.
According to the organization, UNICEF, 730 children died in feeding centers between January and July. More than half a million, aged six months to five years, are severely malnourished. After four failing rainy seasons since late 2020 and with a fifth one looming in October, Somalia is sinking inexorably into famine.
Across the country, 7.8 million people, or nearly half the population, are affected by drought, with 213,000 of them at serious risk of starvation, according to the UN. Without urgent action, a state of famine will be declared in the southern regions of Baidoa and Burhakaba between October and December, warned Martin Griffiths, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in early September. According to him, the situation is worse than during the last famine in 2011, which killed 260,000 people, more than half of them children under the age of five.
Faced with the dangers posed by the radical Islamist Shebab insurgency that has shaken the country for 15 years, a million Somalis have left their villages for the big cities, especially the capital Mogadishu, where they gather in informal settlements.
Nuunay Adan Durow, a mother of 10, traveled 300 km from the Baidoa region to seek medical help for her three-year-old son Hassan Mohamed, whose limbs had swollen due to severe malnutrition. “For the past three years, we haven’t harvested anything because of the lack of rain,” she explains.
“We have been faced with a terrible situation (…) To get a jerry can of water, we have to walk for two hours,” continues the 35-year-old mother, cradling her son while waiting for treatment at an International Rescue Committee (IRC) medical center on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
In the seven health and nutrition centers that the NGO runs in and around the capital, “the number of new arrivals has increased considerably since June,” explains Faisa Ali, nutrition officer at IRC. Among them, the number of malnourished children has tripled, from a maximum of 13 per day in May to 40 in September.
The drought has even hit traditionally fertile areas, such as Lower Shabelle, which borders Mogadishu. Once a refuge for drought-stricken communities, it is now deserted by its inhabitants.
“We used to grow and harvest vegetables to feed our children before the drought affected us,” says Fadumo Ibrahim Hassan, a widow and mother of six, a week after arriving in the capital. Now, “we live on whatever God gives us.
The 35-year-old brought her two-year-old daughter Yusro to De Martino Hospital on the advice of IRC doctors who considered her condition too serious. The girl weighs just 5.8 kg, half the weight of a healthy child her age. Such cases are becoming increasingly common, worries doctor Fahmo Ali.
“The ones we receive here are the worst cases, with complications,” she explains: “And sometimes, some of the ones we have treated come back to the hospital, having fallen ill again.”