Famine is now on Somalia’s doorstep due to four consecutive failed rainy seasons and a fifth that is likely under way (October to December)
Ruqiyo Iman Mohamed and her two-year-old son, Yusuf, have been visiting the Doolow Referral Health Centre in southern Somalia for nearly a month. Yusuf is severely malnourished and needs treatment.
“What will happen to us? Will we survive this drought, or are we going to die from hunger and starvation?” asked 25-year-old Ruqiyo, mother of four.
Malnourished children admitted to the health centre normally are hospitalized for between one and five days, then stabilized and discharged. However, Yusuf is an unfortunate exception due to his severe malnutrition, related infections and other diseases.
He is slowly recovering after blood transfusions and medications, but Ruqiyo remains worried and anxious about her three other children. Ruqiyo’s sister looks after them, but staying at the health centre with Yusuf for a long time puts Ruqiyo in an unfortunate situation. “It is a difficult choice, because staying with one child in the facility means that the others are hungry and do not have food to eat,” she explained.
Even if she returns home, Ruqiyo has no stable livelihood to support her family, as she lost her farm and livestock due to the impact of Somalia’s severe drought.
“My situation is desperate. I do not know what to hope for anymore,” she said.
“We have too many patients but too little space.”
Ruqiyo is just one of millions of people in Somalia trying to deal with uncertainty. Since November 2021, when the Government declared a drought emergency, the number of drought-affected people in Somalia has more than tripled to 7.8 million. More than a million people are displaced due to drought, and at least 6.7 million people face acute food insecurity through December.
“We have too many patients but too little space,” said Asdikarim Moalim, a nurse at the Doolow Referral Health Centre. Asdikarim has seen a sharp increase in the number of patients admitted. Despite having only 14 beds and 6 staff, the health centre admitted 125 patients in August — more than double the number admitted in March.
Asdikarim assesses a malnourished child at the Doolow Referral Health Centre.
According to Asdikarim, the increase is caused by an influx of displaced people from central Somalia and refugees from neighbouring Ethiopia, who now live in the surrounding settlements for displaced people. Most are farmers and pastoralists displaced by severe drought and ongoing insecurity. During the 2011/12 famine, there were two settlements in Doolow hosting some 16,000 displaced people, but the five settlements in the area are now home to over 183,000 people.
Famine is now on Somalia’s doorstep due to four consecutive failed rainy seasons and a fifth that is likely under way (October to December). The latest food security analysis projects that famine will occur in southern Somalia before the year’s end if humanitarian assistance is not urgently scaled up and sustained. The situation now looks increasingly dire for millions of affected people, including over 300,000 facing catastrophic food insecurity levels across Somalia.
A table shows the number of admissions to Doolow Referral Health Centre.
A few kilometres from the health centre, in the Kaharey camp for displaced people, Muumino Dhayow Buule, a mother of four, struggles to fend for her family. Muumino used to own livestock and a farm in her hometown of Diinsoor, Bay Region, but the drought’s devastating effects have taken everything from her and forced her to abandon her home.
Muumino now lives on humanitarian assistance and earnings from informal labour, such as washing clothes and selling water. She buys the water from a private company and sells it to other displaced people who are far from the water point. For every 20 litres she sells, she earns only 15 Ethiopian birr (US$0.3).
“The income is not enough to feed my children,” said Muumino. “Our biggest issue is food. When you are hungry, you do not feel healthy.”
As a single mother, Muumino faces additional challenges:
“I don’t have a husband to help me, and I am the only one there for my children.”
Muumino and her children in front of their makeshift home in the Kaharey settlement in Doolow.
Muumino is one of millions of women facing this challenge. Women and children make up over 80 per cent of Somalia’s displaced population. Besides the burden of sometimes raising their children alone, women and girls face the threat of gender-based violence, including rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and child, early and forced marriage, according to partners. Displacement and drought worsen their situation, as they live in makeshift dwellings and have to trek long distances to access water, exposing them to more risks.
Women wait at the entrance of the nutrition outreach centre in the Kaharey settlement in Doolow. Supported by UNICEF, the centre provides outpatient therapeutic programmes.
“I feel motivated and energetic to work day in, day out to help my nation, my people who are suffering.”
Aware of this grim situation, many Somali nationals and national NGOs are on the front lines of the ongoing drought response. For the past four years, Abdirahman Abdi Ali has worked as a Programme Officer for a national NGO in Doolow, helping to implement various essential projects for people living in the urban areas and settlements for displaced people in Doolow and Luuq Districts.
Abdirahman talks to a displaced woman in front of her makeshift home in the Ladan settlement in Doolow.
He helped install a water supply system and construct 70 latrines in the Ladan settlement. As a result, more than 12,000 people (2,000 families) now have access to water and sanitation services.
“It is my motivation and pleasure to work with my people during these hard times,” said Abdirahman. “I feel motivated and energetic to work day in, day out to help my nation, my people who are suffering.”
People queue for many hours to collect water in the Kaharey settlement in Doolow.
Local responders need more direct support
In the first nine months of this year, the Somalia Humanitarian Fund allocated 60 per cent of its funds to national NGOs. But this represents only 5 per cent of overall funding to the Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seeking $2.27 billion. Local responders, such as the national NGO that employs Abdirahman, account for most of the projects in the Plan. They are the front-line responders to Somalia’s crisis, and they urgently need more direct funding.
“As a person, as a humanitarian aid worker, as a Somali man, I feel devastated about the situation that we are in,” said Abdirahman.
“I hope different donors and partners help my nation, my people who have now been hit by a devastating drought and are at risk of famine, as we speak.”
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs