By Anne Foy
The ongoing drought has destroyed crops and livestock in northern Somalia, causing child malnutrition to skyrocket. The drought is the worst seen in decades, wresting from food supplies of many families. In the Awdal region, many deaths from malnutrition have already been reported. Some 33 children with severe acute malnutrition were hospitalised in Borama Hospital in March, compared to 18 in the month of January.
In addition to the direct effects of the drought itself, prices are also rising, including that of basic items such as milk. The drought has also killed up to 90 per cent of animal livestock in some areas, further affecting the economic situation.
Children are being particularly hard-hit; in February 2016, UN officials predicted that close to 60,000 children in Somalia would starve to death if they were unable to access urgent aid. Almost one million people are struggling to meet their daily needs, leading the UN to call for $885M in aid.
Millions of people are suffering the effects of the drought, especially in Ethiopia, where a staggering 10.2 million persons need emergency attention. Meanwhile, in Somalia, some 1.7 million require emergency help. Over one million people are in risk of falling into a deep crisis if aid is not forthcoming or if the rains do not come. Meanwhile, forecasts for the rainy season (March to June) are bleak, meaning that health issues are likely to increase in number and intensity.
Many Ethiopians are attempting to cross the border into Awdal, in the hopes of finding food and water there; yet they are often stranded in the Oogo mountain range, suffering from starvation and dehydration. Others are heading for the town of Harirad on foot, also becoming stranded and requiring rescuing.
A national committee to deal with the effects of the drought has been created by the president of Somaliland, and government staff have suffered deductions from their salary to help needy families. Adults and children of all ages are affected; some families set off on foot for various kilometres in an aim to find food and water, with newborn babies in tow.
Clearly, greater efforts need to be made to deal with drought. A good example is currently being set by the town of Wukro in the arid Tigray region. There, the government is constructing wells to pump water upwards from the ground, with the aid of the United Nations and various charities. Last year, one well located around 200 metres beneath the ground now supplies water to the town’s 43,000 inhabitants. The well provides around 50 litres daily to each person, which currently satisfies the people’s needs. More wells are being constructed in the anticipation of longer lasting droughts. Authorities have also planted acacia and eucalyptus trees to reduce erosion and to bring water to underground springs. Efforts have additionally been made to increase the awareness of hygienic practices that can reduce the chance of disease. Even washing hands is an important step in order to prevent the spread of infections.
Similar efforts desperately need to be adopted in Somalia, to take a preventive approach to malnutrition. According to UNICEF, Somalia is currently one of the countries with the worst Infant and Young Child Feeding and Micronutrient records in the world. Approximately 73 per cent of children under two (and 60 per cent of children under five) are anaemic, as are nearly half of all women. That is, Somalia already had high levels of malnutrition and premature mortality before the drought, which has nevertheless caused record food inflation. Both the government and donors need to formulate a united response to the country’s chronic poverty, which has weakened the people’s ability to bounce back.
Somalia’s problems will never be addressed unless specific issues are faced. These include production solutions (via greater support for small farmers via the promotion of more resistant crops and the adoption of disaster risk management); access solutions (roads and communications must be improved to alleviate rural poverty); and response solutions (poor families. should have automatic access to basic food needs in times of crisis). The example of countries such as Ethiopia (which is investing in the construction of water wells) is to be followed, since a proactive stance is required if Somalia is to survive devastating natural disasters.