Lying on a hospital bed in Mogadishu, Sadak Ibrahim stares into space. Flies swarm his face, but he tries to shoo them away with his hungry arm. The boy is so weak that he can hardly even cry.
Tired, lack of food, his tears, more and more rare, are only weak sighs.
“He’s the only child I have and he’s very sick,” says his mother Fadumo Daoud, reflecting on her son’s skeletal legs and food stuck to his nose.
To rescue him, he traveled for three days from the Baidoa region in southwestern Somalia, the country hardest hit by the historic drought that is ravaging the Horn of Africa.
At Mogadishu’s De Martino Hospital, Fadumo Daoud watches over her son day and night, praying that he will not be one of the hundreds of children who have died from malnutrition in recent months.
According to Unicef data, 730 children died in feeding centers from January to July. More than half a million children between the ages of six months and five years are severely malnourished.
After four seasons of failed rains since the end of 2020, and a fifth with the promise of similar rains since October, Somalia continues to sink into famine.
Nationwide, 7.8 million people, nearly half the population, are affected by the drought, with 213,000 at risk of severe starvation, according to the United Nations.
Without urgent action, the southern regions of Baidoa and Burhakaba will be in a state of famine from October to December, Martin Griffiths, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned in early September.
He said the situation is worse than the last famine in 2011, which killed 260,000 people, more than half of them children under five.
– exit –
Faced with the threat of the radical Islamist Shebab insurgency that has rocked the country for 15 years, a million Somalis have fled their villages for major cities, particularly the capital Mogadishu, where they have regrouped in informal camps.
Nuunay Adan Durov, a mother of ten, traveled 300 kilometers from the Baidoa region to seek medical attention for her three-year-old son Hassan Mohamed, whose limbs were swollen due to severe malnutrition.
“We haven’t had a harvest for three years because of the lack of rain,” he explains.
“We faced a terrible situation (…) to get a can of water, you have to walk for two hours,” continued the 35-year-old mother, who kissed her son while waiting for treatment at the city’s medical center. NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
At the seven health and nutrition centers the NGO operates in and around the capital, “the number of new arrivals has increased significantly since June,” explains Faisa Ali, the IRC’s nutrition manager.
Among them, the number of malnourished children tripled, from 13 per day in May to 40 in September.
– 5.8 kg in two years –
Drought has hit even traditionally fertile regions such as the Lower Shabelle bordering Mogadishu. Once a haven for drought-stricken communities, it is now deserted by its inhabitants.
“We were growing and harvesting vegetables to feed our children before the drought hit us,” said Fadumo Ibrahim Hassan, a widow and mother of six, a week after arriving in the capital. Now “we live with all that God gives us.”
The 35-year-old brought her two-year-old daughter to Jusro de Martino Hospital on the advice of IRC doctors, who deemed her condition very serious.
The girl weighs only 5.8 kilograms, which is half the weight of a healthy child of her age.
Such cases are becoming more frequent, worries Dr. Fahmo Ali.
“The ones we get here are the worst cases, with complications,” he explains, “and sometimes, some of the ones we’ve been treating come back to the hospital after getting sick again.”