Once hunger gets this bad, you only have days to act
When I first arrived in Dadaab, the first person I met had fled from Somalia. She pointed at her bloody and bruised feet and told me she had walked the whole way, carrying her two children.
She told me that the sand was so hot it had burned her as she walked, and she told me that she had left her husband behind, to try and protect her home. She didn’t know if she was ever going to see him again.
The next person I spoke to had walked too – for over a month. It was difficult to tell exactly how long for, she said, because every day was the same – walking in the burning heat, hunger in her belly, struggling with young children.
It was the same for the next person, and the next and the next. I remember looking around the packed centre, at all the Somalis queuing, at all the children, many still covered in sand from the long trek – that was when I realised the magnitude of what I was witnessing.
This morning famine was announced in Somalia. Save the Children has been responding to famine and to extreme hunger for over 90 years.
It’s what we started doing – in 1919, when Eglantyne Jebb first starting talking about starving babies on the wrong side of the war.
In 1921 she quoted an Armenian child who said “Thousands of people . . . tired, sick and hungry. I had to carry my youngest brother. One day I saw that he was not moving or crying for bread any more. I showed him to my mother and she saw that he was dead. We were glad that he was dead because we had nothing to feed him on”.
Nearly 100 years later and children are still saying the same thing.
We know what happens when families are desperate. I’ve heard from families forcing their children to eat leaves in a desperate bid to fill their bellies.
We’ve seen in other similar situations, children listless and weak from lack of food, unable to muster enough energy to swallow.
We’ve seen mothers give their children mud and pretend it’s food – praying it will keep them alive for another day. Once hunger reaches these stages, you only have days to act.
We’re acting to save lives
Save the Children is acting. We are tripling the scale of our response across Somalia – we have already been working in south central Somalia for many years, and in Puntland since 2004 in response to the Tsunami.
We’re one of only a few agencies operational in Somalia and we aim to reach around half a million of the most severely affected children and families – this will include those fleeing from pockets of famine, and working to prevent further areas falling into famine.
But we can’t do this alone.