Worst drought hits Somalia in 40 years

Young children are dying in growing numbers in Somalia amid the worst drought to hit the country in 40 years.

Government officials say that an even greater catastrophe could sweep the country within days or weeks unless more help arrives.

A new survey has shown that almost two-thirds of young children and pregnant women in the camps are suffering from acute malnutrition, which along with a high death rate, could indicate that a localised declaration of famine is already overdue.

A succession of droughts, turbo-charged by climate change, is now threatening to end a pastoral way of life that has endured for centuries across the Horn of Africa.

Like other new arrivals, Habiba was busy erecting a tent for her family from branches, twigs, and scavenged scraps of cardboard and plastic sheeting, hoping to finish it before the chill of night. Only after that could she turn to finding food and medical help for some of her five children.

In the admissions ward in the city’s main hospital, Dr Abdullahi Yussuf moved between beds, checking on his tiny, emaciated patients. Most were children between two months and three years old.All were severely malnourished. Some had pneumonia and many were battling a new outbreak of measles too.

Few infants had the strength to cry. Several had badly damaged skin, broken by the swelling that sometimes accompanied the most extreme cases of hunger.

Although Somali officials and international organisations have been sounding the alarm for months about an impending famine in this south-western region, Dr Abdullahi said his hospital was already short of basic items including nutritional supplements for children.

“Sometimes we lack supplies. It’s terrifying, actually, because people are dying, and we can’t support them. Our local government is not handling this well. It has not been planning for the drought or for the arrival of displaced families,” he said with visible frustration.A local government minister conceded there had been failings.

“We need to be faster than we are, and we need to be accurate… and more effective,” said Nasir Arush, Minister for Humanitarian Affairs for South West state, on a short visit to one of the camps around Baidoa. But more international support, he insisted, was key. -BBC

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