Two mounds of earth heaped over the little bodies of Halima Hassan Abdullahi’s twin grandchildren are encircled by hacked-off thorn branches. Ebla and Abdia were only alive for a day.
Hunger-stricken, their mother gave birth to the twins a month early, eight weeks after their depleted family entered a displaced families camp in Dollow, Somalia.
“She’s malnourished, and her two babies died of starvation,” Abdullahi said at the Kaxareey camp, which opened in January and now has 13,000 residents.
They are part of a population of over 6 million Somalis who require assistance to survive.
The greatest drought in 40 years has shrunk their beans and corn and littered scrubland with the dead of their livestock after rains failed for four seasons in a row.
With global focus on Ukraine, aid agencies and the United Nations are desperate to attract attention to a calamity they say is shaping up to be comparable to Somalia’s 2011 famine. More than a quarter of a million people died then, mostly children under five.
There is only enough cash for about half the people in the Kaxareey camp. Abdullahi’s family is not one of the lucky ones.
She has not seen anything like it since the early 1990s, when a famine helped trigger a disastrous U.S. military intervention in Somalia that ended notoriously with the shooting down of a Black Hawk helicopter. Her family had never had to leave their land before, she said.
On good days, Abdullahi can support the 13 members of her family by washing clothes in town, earning about $1.50. That enables everyone to have a single handful of maize porridge.
But it is not enough. Her daughter-in-law needs medicine for typhoid that costs ten times Abdullahi’s daily wages. The girl lies listlessly on a blanket, a skinny baby fretting at her breast. A high-heeled red shoe with a diamante clasp lies in the dirt nearby, one of the few possessions she carried from their sunblasted home. Now she is too weak to even say her name.
Abdullahi whispers, “Abdiya,” in an attempt to rouse her.
The girl does not raise her head.
Kafia Noor, 5, stands by the graves of her twin sisters Ebla and Abdia, who died of hunger on May 24, 2022, at the Kaxareey camp for internally displaced people in Dollow, Gedo, Somalia. Feisal Omar/Reuters
‘SO MUCH PAIN,’ says the narrator.
Famine is approaching over six districts of Somalia, which is home to about 15 million people in a region especially vulnerable to climate change consequences. Early intervention is critical to averting famine.
Because food was distributed quickly, a drought in 2017 – worse than the one that precipitated the 2011 famine – lost only about 1,000 people their lives.
However, speed necessitates money. It’s also in short supply.
The United Nations intends to give emergency assistance. aid is only 15% funded.
So far, 2.8 million people have received aid. Another 3.1 million could be helped if more money came in.
The rest are out of reach, residing in parched hinterlands where an Islamist insurgency holds sway.
“We need the cash to avert the risk of famine,” said Rukia Yacoub, deputy director for the World Food Programme in East Africa.
In the camp, people make homes from orange tarpaulins and scraps of cloth and plastic stretched over domes of sticks.
Hammering echoes as relief workers set up pit latrines with corrugated iron sheets. New arrivals cluster around tents where aid staff tell them there is no help for now.
Instead, many families end up begging a cup of food or a few pennies from those barely better off, but who arrived early enough to register for help.
Hunger often weakens the children before diseases claim them. Asha Ali Osman, 25, lost her three-year-old and four-year-old to measles a month ago.
Now she cradles her youngest, a baby, as she waits to secure the girl a vaccination in Dollow.
“I feel so much pain because I cannot even breastfeed her,” she said softly. “When my children are hungry, I can beg some sugar water from a neighbor. Or sometimes we just lie down together, and cry.”