A mother holds her malnourished baby in her arms at the Banadi Maternal and Child Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 1, 2022 (AFP / Ed RAM)
In Arabia, Mahad Qasim has already seen his two children starve to death in 18 months, a devastating drought that has engulfed Somalia. As the situation worsens, he is now fighting to save his daughter Ifrah.
In her 20s, the young woman wasted no time when her two-year-old baby’s body began to swell, a sign of severe malnutrition. He left his village of Afgui Jido to reach the capital Mogadishu on a one-day drive.
At Banadi’s Maternal and Child Hospital, she finds herself in the same ordeal as dozens of other parents. Some have walked for days to save their children.
Over the months, Somalia has been plunged into a severe food crisis caused by drought at an unprecedented scale for at least 40 years, affecting neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya as well.
Humanitarian agencies are warning about the risk of famine in the region – more real every day.
The last four rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have been inadequate, and today 7.1 million Somalis, about half of the population, are living in starvation, with 213,000 on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
– Overwhelmed Hospital –
In recent months, thousands of Somalis – who make a living from livestock and agriculture – have fled their villages after seeing their last resources disappear.
A father suffers from severe malnutrition at the Banadi Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 1, 2022 (AFP / Ed RAM)
“There was no harvest. We lost our cattle. The river dried up,” said Khadija Mohammad Hassan, who brought her 14-month-old son Bilal to the hospital.
“I am 45 years old and I have never seen such a devastating drought in my life. We are living in the worst conditions of our time,” he sighed.
The staff of Bandi Hospital is overflowing.
A severely malnourished child is examined by a nurse at the Banadi Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 1, 2022 (AFP / Ed RAM)
According to Hafsa Mohammad Hassan, a physician, the number of malnourished patients in the hospital’s stabilization center has tripled due to the drought.
Some days there are not enough beds to accommodate all the patients in the facility.
“The cases we’ve seen include children suffering from complications (due to malnutrition, editor’s note), such as severe measles and others who are in a coma due to severe malnutrition,” he explained.
A woman carries a jerrycan of water at a camp for displaced people in Baidoa, Somalia on February 13, 2022 (AFP / Yasushi Chiba)
For Osman Hossain, a veteran of the NGO Concern Worldwide, which has been helping Bandir Hospital since 2017, the situation is getting complicated.
“Between January and June, the number of children admitted to the Bandi Hospital Stability Center with severe malnutrition and other complications increased from 120 to 230 per month,” he explained.
– “We can’t wait” –
Everyone fears that the next monsoon season in October-November will fail again, further weakening this volatile country with its precarious infrastructure.
A mother holds her severely malnourished child at the Banadi Maternal and Child Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 1, 2022 (AFP / Ed RAM)
Somalia has been embroiled in a 15-year-old Islamist insurgency led by Shebab, whose establishment has limited access to humanitarian aid to people in the country’s vast rural areas.
Ukraine’s tense war is having a dramatic effect on the lives of Somalis, who have seen food prices skyrocket.
A mother suffers from severe malnutrition at the Banadir Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, June 1, 2022 (AFP / Eddie Ram)
As the world’s attention is drawn to Ukraine, humanitarian organizations are struggling to raise funds.
They raised just 18% of the estimated $ 1.5 billion needed to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine that killed 260,000 people, half of whom were children under the age of six.
“We can’t wait for the famine to be declared,” said El-Khidir Dalum, director of the World Food Program in Somalia.
Newly elected President Hassan Cheikh Mohamud last week visited a camp for displaced people near Baidoa in the southwest of the country.
A 14-month-old baby receives treatment for severe malnutrition at the Banadi Maternal and Child Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 1, 2022 (AFP / Ed RAM)
“Anyone who has a plate of food on the table today should think the baby is crying somewhere because of hunger and help them in any way they can,” he urged.
At Banadi’s hospital, Khadija Mohammad Hassan looks at her frail Bilal and is optimistic: “We’ve been here for thirteen days, she’s fine now.”