He ran away from hunger but he still chases us

NOS . News

  • Ellis van Gelder

    Africa Reporter

  • Ellis van Gelder

    Africa Reporter

Nowhere in Somalia is hunger greater than in Baidoa. It is located in a place that has not been as dry as it is now for forty years. Moreover, Baidoa is located in an area controlled by the jihadists of the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. Drought and insecurity have dire consequences.

Drought know this in Somalia. The population is tough. Dryness comes and goes. People build a buffer barrier and climb back up to the top after a dry period. But now droughts succeed in each other. It hasn’t rained in two years. This means the absence of four rainy seasons.

It is a disaster for a country where most of the population lives from agriculture and especially from livestock. Millions of goats, sheep and cows died because they could no longer find grass and water. More than a million people have fled the drought. About a quarter of them settled in Baidoa. Bedouins arriving without livestock, but with hungry children, are looking for help.

Africa reporter Ellis van Gelder and photographer Sven Torven traveled to Baidoa. They visited a center where malnourished children are helped:

How hunger grips Baidoa: ‘This baby weighs 5.1 kilos’

Adi, 40, sits in her hut made of twigs and fabrics. “I was one of the last to leave my village,” she says. “There is nothing left in the countryside. At least there is a clinic here.” Next to her, her children are suffering from malnutrition and measles. Her five-year-old daughter, Eunice, died after arriving in Baidoa.

A little further from a similar story, about a mother who ran away while pregnant. Baby Mustafa was born in the camp in Baidoa. But because she herself was malnourished, she was not able to breastfeed. “He died last night,” said Dahabo Mokhtar quietly. “We ran away from hunger but hunger followed us here.”

According to UNICEF, as of July, more than 700 children had died in so-called stabilization centres, clinics where medical staff try to rescue severely malnourished children. But the children of Adi and Dhabo did not even make it to the clinic. Many children die fleeing or parents are unable to reach places like Baidoa. There is no information on the situation in many villages, so the number of deaths will be several times higher.

  • Ellis van Gelder

    The child is assisted in the center for stabilization
  • Ellis van Gelder

    Families wait for help at the entrance to a stabilization center

Somalia is a weak country where problems pile up: insecurity and drought are a disastrous combination. The fact that part of the country is in the hands of Al-Shabab terrorists ensures that humanitarian aid will not reach all places in Somalia.

Moreover, the country is also dealing with deforestation, overgrazing and rising food prices.

impending famine

For months, aid agencies and the United Nations have been warning of an impending famine due to the ongoing drought. Aid money is slowly gaining traction, in part due to “competitive” crises such as the war in Ukraine.

They are now in a slightly better position financially through the end of the year, says Laura Turner of the World Food Program, which is responsible for much of the emergency aid. But they have to set priorities, so their warehouses are full of food for malnourished children.

Between August of this year and July of next year, the World Food Program estimates that 513,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition. “But at some point this runs out. And the longer it takes, the more we need,” she says of the boxes being loaded into a helicopter.

drought and conflict

There is great fear of a prolonged crisis and more child deaths. Because the fifth rainy season also seems to be absent. “A lot of refugees will stay here,” said Nasser Abdi Aroush, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs in Baidoa. He saw his city grow exponentially. Emergency aid is needed, but he also fears the future.

“Climate change and the youth movement are threatening the traditional lives of our ranchers. We need to look at new livelihoods and how to deal with climate change in the long term.”

Somalia faces two evils: drought and conflict. Meanwhile, the new government, which has been in power since May, appears to be primarily focused on ending terrorism. They launched an attack on Al-Shabab. According to local minister Arush, they have no choice but to focus on safety first. “We are not a rich country. Security is our priority, and only then can we reach our people with aid. We need to stabilize our country and create a climate for aid organizations to do their work.”

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