Somalia Struggles to Cope with Drought

A two-year-long drought in East Africa has affected 14 million people, killing crops and livestock. Hunger is widespread, and civil strife and piracy are putting a major dent in food supplies to southern Somalia.

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The drought affecting over 14 million people in East Africa is hitting the troubled nation of Somalia especially hard.

Divided by warring militias for 15 years, international aid shipments into the country have been attacked by pirates on the sea and bandits on the road. The result is growing desperation for two millions Somalis whose livelihood has been wiped out after two years of failed rains.

David McGuffin traveled to Wajhid (ph), in Southern Somalia, and brings us this report.

Mr. DAVID MCGUFFIN reporting:

Macay Suphie is 60 years old. She pounds grain, food aid given by the U.N. to make her one daily meal.

Everything she cooks with is borrowed. All she owns are the clothes on her back. Her livestock are dead; her crops have failed for three straight years. She walked 60 miles on her own to this refugee camp outside Wajhid in southern Somalia.

Ms. MACAY SUPHIE: (Foreign spoken)

MCGUFFIN: I came in search of food and shelter, she says. I have nothing. But even here, our monthly food rations only feed us for a week.

Up to half a million Somalis like Suphie are on the move in a desperate hunt for food. An estimated 80 percent of livestock here have died in the drought, a devastating loss for a society of subsistence farmers.

Hassan Adenfarah(ph), a Somali aid worker with Action Against Hunger in Wajhid, says he's never seen so much suffering caused by drought.

Mr. HASSAN ADENFARAH (Action Against Hunger): This is the most worst drought that we face now for the last 30 years. Children are dying, everything is dying, the animals are dying.

MCGUFFIN: These camps around Wajhid have grown from housing a few hundred people before Christmas to almost 15,000 now. And new families are arriving each and every day. The conditions are squalid. There are no medical facilities here to speak of.

This woman arrived here a week ago. Her one-year-old child's face is scarred and scabby with ringworm. She says there is no one she can turn to for help.

The refugees get food, but little else, from the international community. They live in homemade dome tents built with sticks and hung with pieces of plastic or a cloth flapping in the wind, feeble shelter from scorching daytime temperatures that reach 120 degrees. The day we arrived in Wajid, a man was executed on the edge of town. His crime: killing a man over water at a distribution site. Things are that desperate.

(Soundbite of truck horn)

McGUFFIN: On land, U.N. aid convoys come under sometimes deadly attack, despite heavy guard. By sea, Somali pirates have seized U.N. food shipments, holding them for ransom. Zlatan Milisic, Somali country director for the U.N.'s World Food Program, says getting food to the two million Somalis in need is a logistical nightmare.

Mr. ZLATAN MILISIC (Somali Country Director, U.N. World Food Program): Humanitarian situation is getting worse. We have a major number of people who need our assistance. Yesterday and not even today, and tomorrow will be too late. And we are struggling to move through and deliver to them the necessary assistance. It doesn't help their societies either when they're in a constant state of unrest and attacks and problems.

(Soundbite of people screaming)

McGUFFIN: In a drought-ravaged land awash with guns, the problems are never far away. Gunfire rang out as we approached this U.N. food distribution center, warning shots as people fought over bags of food. Too many hungry, not enough aid to go around. Evidence of hunger can be seen everywhere. Dead livestock litter the countryside.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

McGUFFIN: And then there's the children. Three-year-old Mohammed Ali(ph) arrived here so weak that he could only be fed through a tube down his nose. He weighs the same as a child half his age. The therapeutic feeding center where he is getting treatment opened only days before we arrived here, and it's already full to capacity.

(Soundbite of women's chatter)

McGUFFIN: Mohammed Ali's mother says they have lost everything. Her husband left her and their five children when their livestock died. She says all she can do is pray to God.

(Soundbite of babies crying)

McGUFFIN: Mohammed Ali is regaining strength, but then what? The spring rains might help, but aid workers say it could take a generation to rebuild the livelihood that have been wiped out here. The U.N. has appealed for $425 million to deal with the immediate crisis caused by drought in East Africa. But so far they've only received a quarter of that.

For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin, in Wajid, Somalia.

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