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A week in Somalia

It was with slight trepidation that I set off to Somalia. Like for many people, for me Somalia conjured up images of pirates, fighting and drought. I was heading to Somalia to cover the devastating food crisis. I was hoping not to come too close to pirates or the conflict.

Norta Omar, 26 with her youngest child Faisal Kasim, two. Norta left south central Somalia after her 100 goats and 50 cattle had died.
Norta Omar, 26 with her youngest child Faisal Kasim, two. Norta left south central Somalia after her 100 goats and 50 cattle had died.

As I flew the length of Somalia heading up to Puntland region in the north east all I could see was swathes of dry, dusty land stretching out beneath me.

Somalia is suffering the worst drought in 60 years. Just looking beneath me I could see quite clearly the impact of this on the land. It made me quite apprehensive about what effects of the drought I would witness having on the people, particularly children.

I landed in Bosaso, a port town on the north coast of Puntland. It was a pretty spectacular landing, the runway being a small strip of beach sandwiched between the sparkling azure blue sea and a strip of sandy mountains. This turned out to be a big contrast to what I would experience next.

There are 31 camps for internally displaced people in Bosaso. These have sprung up over the last 15 years as refuges for people escaping previous droughts and the conflict.

Nothing but clothes on their backs

I arrived in New Shabelle camp and for as far as the eye could see I could see small shacks patch worked together from cardboard boxes to protect people from the blistering heat and harsh glare of the sun.

The camp chairman told me that new families are arriving each day now, usually with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

More established families are taking in the new arrivals – often with three families sharing a small, cramped hut and sharing what little food they have with their visitors.

In amongst the bleak hardship it was heart warming seeing local people supporting each other despite their own desperate circumstances.

Norta’s story

I met Norta Omar, 26, who had arrived the day before. She told me as she sat with her three children outside their shack, her youngest listless in her arms: “we ran away from the drought. Everyone who had animals, all their animals have died. I had 100 goats and 50 cattle. All of them are dead.

“I decided to leave with my children to go to Bosaso for a better life. I was given a lift on the top of a lorry to the camp. It was a long journey and we were hungry.

“I’m now staying with another family who have given us a roof over our heads. The high food prices are affecting us too. Now I’m just depending on these good people and their help.”

Malnourished children double

Save the Children is the only international non-governmental organisation working in Bosaso providing nutrition support to families like Nortas.

Over the last two weeks the numbers of malnourished children coming through the centres have nearly doubled – from 3500 to 6000.

The nutrition centre I went to was crowded with mums and their babies. Nurses were weighing each child and measuring their middle upper arm circumference to determine how malnourished each child was.

Mothers are then given a weeks supply of highly nutritious food, like a peanut butter paste for their children and are told to return the next week for a check up.

Survival

Isha’s 20 month little girl, Maymun was measured and weighed. She was classified as suffering from severe acute malnutrition and was immediately referred to a specialised clinic as an inpatient.

Maymun only weighed 6.4kg. As soon as she arrived at the clinic she was put on a feeding tube to help stabilise her weight. When I visited her four days later she weighed 7.2kg and her mum was smiling once again. It’s incredible to see the progress severely malnourished children make once they’re in the right hands and are having the right treatment.

Isha with her daughter Maymun, 24 months, having his middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured at one of Save the Children's outpatient therapeutic programmes in Bosaso, Puntland. Maymun weighs only 6.4kg.
Isha with her daughter Maymun, 24 months, having his middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured at one of Save the Children's outpatient therapeutic programmes in Bosaso, Puntland. Maymun weighs only 6.4kg.

Norta’s last words to me still haunt me though. She said, “if the drought continues like this there will be a lot of people dying unless they get support. I’m appealing to the outside world to understand that this drought is very severe and is affecting a lot of people.

“The people who had the strength have moved but the most vulnerable are left behind and they need help. I’ve seen a number of children from Balkool being literally dragged along by their arms because they are so weak.

Dying on the side of roads

“It really disturbs me when I remember the people I’ve seen dying on the side of the road. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Ten million people across East Africa are affected by this food crisis yet we have a US$1 billion shortfall to respond to people’s needs.

If the international community doesn’t act now then it may well be too late to help other people in similar situation to Norta and Isha. It would be unforgivable if the world’s hungriest children were left to die because the world’s richest countries failed to deliver the cash.

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