Somali families affected by drought in rural areas are being forced to make impossible choices, including traveling long distances to access health services and food on empty stomachs or staying home and suffering in silence.
Somalia has had four failed rainy seasons, pushing the country into a drought and forcing pastoralist communities to leave their homes in search of pasture and water.
Djoen Besselink, the country representative in Somalia for medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF – Medecins Sans Frontieres), told Anadolu Agency (AA) in an interview that some families are left with stark choices.
“Bringing one child to a health center means leaving others behind and the cattle/livelihood. So they sometimes can’t bring the sick/malnourished child to the health center,” he said by phone.
He said many people in Somalia are pastoralists and their herds are dying due to the drought, so they now have to decide whether they should walk long distances to access food and medicine.
Measles outbreak, malnutrition
Besselink said that amid the drought, Somalia is also facing a huge measles outbreak.
“Measles is a preventable disease if you get vaccinated. But due to many factors such as the impact of COVID-19, drought and insecurity, there have been low levels of immunization,” he said.
MSF, which has been operating in the Horn of Africa for decades, said common and preventable diseases like measles and diarrhea are now leading causes of death among children in Somalia and Somaliland.
Besselink said MSF teams have seen close to 6,000 suspected measles cases between the beginning of the year and mid-May in multiple hospitals across Somalia and Somaliland.
“The outbreak is still huge and at unacceptable levels, but where we work, cases have reduced,” Besselink said, adding widespread water scarcity, food insecurity and living in crowded camps are creating the conditions for diseases to spread fast.
He said the charity is severely strained as they are seeing increasing numbers of people seeking medical assistance.
MSF says it is also seeing extremely distressing signs of acute malnutrition among children.
“In February, our teams in Baidoa screened 81,706 children under the age of five. They found severe acute malnutrition rates of 3% and global acute malnutrition rates of 17%,” it said.
Bakri Abubakr, MSF’s program manager in Somalia, said that in one week alone, they admitted almost 1,000 children to their outpatient therapeutic feeding program in 20 different centers around Baidoa city.
He added that 30% of the children were severely acutely malnourished, indicating that they are far into an acute emergency.
Nearly half of Somalia in need
Over 7 million Somalis – nearly half the country’s population – are in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million children are severely malnourished.
“If we don’t act now, thousands will die, and any delay is not an option to immediately save lives,” Adam Abdelmoula, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told Anadolu Agency as he visited the Gedol region.
A humanitarian delegation led by the Somali president’s special envoy for the drought response on Monday visited Dolow, one of the worst drought-stricken towns in the country, to see the humanitarian crisis and famine unfolding in the region.
Abdelmoula said eight districts in Somalia are now facing famine-like conditions and 366,000 people in the country will die by September if humanitarian assistance does not scale up as soon as possible.
Millions of people across Africa are at risk of extreme hunger due to worsening droughts caused by delayed rains and other conditions.
Experts blame climate change as the main driver for droughts in the Horn of Africa region, which has semiarid conditions.
Many trees have been cut in parts of southern Somalia for making charcoal.
The Sahel region and Madagascar are also faced with droughts. Madagascar was hit by six tropical weather systems from January to April this year, killing at least 214 people and affecting around 571,100 across the country.