It rains in the heart of the drought. First it only drizzles, then showers follow until the craters in Baidoa’s main street have turned into ponds. Goats seek shelter against the walls of ramshackle houses, the three-wheeled tuk tuks threaten to sink in the mud.
In a refugee camp on the outskirts of the Somali provincial town, Siid Noor Anen works a little faster on his dome tent, made of rods and plastic sheeting, so that he has a roof over his head tonight. But then the rain stops.
Siid arrived yesterday with his son and two daughters from the village of Ufurow, 30 kilometers away. They had to leave their homes secretly in the middle of the night because the al-Shabab militiamen who control Ufurov don’t want to let anyone go.
The Islamic extremists are dependent on the villagers as breadwinners: Siid had to pay them one of his 13 cows as a “tax” from time to time – the remaining cattle have now starved to death. His wife also died two weeks ago: the 50-year-old farmer complains that if she had only taken care of herself and not just her family.
There are currently 147 families living in the Bulo Isak refugee camp, and today twelve more families have joined them – and it’s not even noon yet. Baidoa is peppered with refugee camps. Most of the residents of the camps came to Baidao on foot or by donkey cart from all parts of the Bay region: With its fertile soil, it was considered Somalia’s breadbasket.
Now that there have been four rainy seasons in a row, nothing is growing in the Bay region apart from thorn bushes: the current showers won’t change that much – they’ll come too late. Because there was no rainfall at the beginning of the rainy season, the farmers did not plant any seed either – apart from the fact that none of them had any seed left after the year and a half drought.
If it does, the rain is becoming increasingly unpredictable, says Siid: Nobody knows when to sow the seeds anymore. “As if a curse had come upon us.”
Somalia is used to droughts. The last was five years ago, a more devastating one 11 years ago, a “historic” one 38 years ago. “But it’s never been as bad as it is now,” says an 80-year-old woman as she draws a circle in the ground next to Siid’s construction site with her stick – the floor plan of her future home.
If the rainy season also fails in September – which experts believe is likely – this drought will go down as the longest in the country’s history. According to the United Nations, eight million Somalis are already dependent on food aid: almost half of the population.
When a famine has to be officially declared is only a matter of time, forecast aid organizations: the last one, in 2011, killed more than 260,000 people. “Back then, we all swore that something like this would never happen again,” says Claire Sanford, deputy director of “Save the Children”: “Now it threatens to get even worse.” A child in Baidoa already dies almost every day from the disease Consequences of malnutrition: The world is busy with other things.
Hawa Isaq Abubakar has also lost one of her five children: she had to bury her second youngest son when he was 18 months old. “There is nothing worse than losing a child,” says the 35-year-old mother. Her husband left the family in the meantime: she doesn’t know what became of him.
Hawa walked the 90 kilometers with her children from her village to Baidoa: she was told that foreign organizations would help her there. For the past 19 days, the mother has been cramming into the tent next to Siid’s shell with her four children every evening. But so far, no one has helped her.
Except for the neighbor who lets her have the rest of her slimy okra every now and then. During the day, Hawa roams through the bushes to collect firewood, which she sells at the market for a dollar. She can afford a kilo of cornmeal from that. At least today. Tomorrow it could be more expensive again.
A liter of cooking oil in Baidoa now costs twice as much as it did a year ago. The Ukraine war with its global shortage of sunflower oil and wheat is blamed for the inflation. But the distant war with the immediate consequences is only the tip of the crises.
Two years ago, huge swarms of locusts ate everything that was green here. Then came the drought – and then the corona pandemic. And all this while a civil war has been raging in Somalia for a decade and a half between the extremists and a weak central government: Al-Shabab (Arabic: the boys) controls a large part of the hinterland, the government mainly the cities. Which doesn’t mean that one could feel safe there: in Mogadishu there are an average of 30 attacks a month.
This makes work difficult for foreign aid organizations. The “boys” perceive people with pale faces as walking ATMs. For fear of being kidnapped, the helpers have to travel from one city to another by plane, and from the airport to the hotel in an armored all-terrain vehicle. Reporters only have an hour to talk to people in one place because word of their presence spreads quickly.
At nine o’clock in the morning, more than 50 mothers and their offspring gathered at a clinic in Baidoa run by “Save the Children”. A closer look reveals that most of the children are malnourished: their hair is blond, their bellies are bloated, and hunger edema forms on their thighs.
Abubakir Ali Ukas is 14 months old and weighs six kilograms – almost half the weight he should weigh at this age. A health worker measures the circumference of his upper arm: the measuring tape shows 10.5 centimeters in the dark red area.
The boy has not eaten solid food for several days, says his mother Shakira. She has been living in the refugee camp for a year: the 35-year-old once had eight children, now there are only five. Her second youngest son died next to her in the tent. He was two years old.
For a while, Shakira said she received $60 a month from an aid organization. That stopped at some point: Because there was no more money, she was told. Since then, she has either been collecting firewood or doing laundry for someone: she has to provide for her family of six with her daily wage of 1 dollar.
The international relief effort in Somalia is hopelessly underfunded. Of the $1.5 billion requested by the United Nations, less than $500 million has been received so far. Five years ago, when famine could be avoided, “Save the Children” still had 110 million dollars available for Somalia in the first half of the year, with which 1.4 million children were reached, calculates Adan Farah Mohumed, advisor to the aid organization in Mogadishu. before.
In contrast, in the first half of this year it was only $30 million, which can help just 400,000 children. This calculation does not even include the fact that aid is becoming more and more expensive because of the Ukraine war, adds Abdinasir Abdi Arush, Minister for Humanitarian Affairs in the Southwest Province: “Famine will probably not be avoided in this way.”
Laila Hassan Rowle is sitting on one of twelve beds in a nearly 20 square meter room in Baido’s “Stabilization Center” – on her arm is two-year-old Mukhtar, behind her in bed is 40-day-old Bisharo. When the 17-year-old mother arrived here three days ago, Mukhtar was unconscious: he still doesn’t open his eyes – as if he still hesitates to return to life.
The boy’s body is covered with a rash, one of the countless consequences of malnutrition. Mukhtar doesn’t even drink from her breast anymore, says his mother. Whether Mukhtar will make it through will only be decided in the next few days, says Abdul Fakar Ibrahim, head of the stabilization station also operated by Save the Children.
At the entrance to the clinic there is a board with sober numbers. After that, 232 children were admitted in April, 398 in May and 471 in June. Four of these children died in April, eight in May and 18 in June. “It’s getting worse and worse,” says Abdul: “If not soon something happens, there will be a disaster.”
The head of the emergency station is already preparing for this: he had three tents set up next to the clinic in order to be able to increase the total number of patients from the current 150 to 200. Around 30 new ones are added every day, says Abdul.
Somalia is being fundamentally changed by the drought, the station chief continues. At present, even the last nomadic pastoralists are giving up their wandering life; in addition, tens of thousands of small farmers would flock to the cities. Abdul doubts that they will ever return: “It will be the death knell for our agriculture.”