Mogadishu, March 28th, 2022 – Ahmad Hassan Yarrow, standing in front of his makeshift home in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in southern Somalia’s Luuq district, looks out at the Juba River and shakes his head despondently.
“Of all the droughts I’ve seen in my 70 years, I’ve never seen anything as severe as this,” he says, gazing out the window at the scenery.
Yarow is one of hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled their homes in search of food, water, and shelter due to the country’s recent and worsening drought.
The Juba River runs through the Luuq district in the Gedo region of the Federal Member State of Jubaland. The river’s waters have been steadily dwindling for more than three months, leaving only brown puddles.
The hopes of local communities – mostly farmers and pastoralists – who rely on the river for their livelihoods vanished as the waters receded. Their crops wilted and their livestock died under the scorching sun, and the communities, like many other Somalis across the country, came dangerously close to starvation.
Salado Madeer Mursaal, a 28-year-old mother of one who has also sought assistance at the IDP camp, says, “We lost everything in the drought.” “We require food, shelter, water, and other necessities of life.”
The humanitarian situation in Somalia was already dire due to decades of conflict, recurrent climate shocks, and disease outbreaks, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the current drought, an estimated 7.7 million Somalis needed humanitarian help and protection this year, up 30% from the previous year.
The situation has worsened, with the current drought destroying crop harvests and livestock dying from a lack of water and pasture, robbing many pastoral communities of their sole source of income.
“The country has had three failed rainy seasons in a row. The fourth, which is expected to begin in April and last until June, is expected to be below average as well. If that happens, famine is a distinct possibility, according to Somalia’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Adam Abdelmoula.
The UN and its implementing partners have been actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance. They assisted 1.6 million people in February, but they are requesting more funds from Somalia’s federal authorities in order to provide urgent humanitarian assistance.
Somalia is currently one of the most severely drought-affected countries in the Horn of Africa, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The drought has affected 4.5 million Somalis directly, with 700,000 people forced to flee their homes.
Children are in a particularly precarious position.
“As we speak, 1.4 million children under the age of five are severely malnourished, and it is estimated that 350,000 of them will die by the summer of this year if we do not step up our intervention.” “The situation cannot be any worse,” says Mr. Abdelmoula, who is also the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Secretary-Deputy General’s Special Representative for Somalia.
“As a result, I’m calling on everyone who can help, including the Somali diaspora, the business community, traditional and non-traditional donors, everyone,” he says.
The United Nations seeks nearly $1.5 billion in the Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022 to provide humanitarian assistance to 5.5 million of the country’s most vulnerable people, including 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 3.9 million non-IDPs, and people with disabilities.
So far, only about 4% of the total – $56.1 million – has been received.
In search of safety and shelter
There is a palpable mix of relief and resignation among the displaced in Luuq’s camps.
Fatuma Madeer Mursaal and her family arrived at the Boyle IDP camp in Luuq after walking for several days. They were among the more than 4,000 people seeking assistance who had gathered there.
“We are farmers with livestock, but due to the drought, all of our animals died.” Ms. Mursaal, a 39-year-old mother of six, says, “We have nothing left and have come here for water, food, shelter, and help.”
The Boyle IDP camp is one of several that have sprung up across the country as desperate people seek refuge in places where they hope to receive assistance.
“It’s serious, and it’s one of Somalia’s biggest tragedies right now.” The displaced communities lack shelter, water, medicine, and even food, and rely on handouts to survive. The drought has wiped out everything, and if survivors do not receive immediate humanitarian aid, they will perish,” says Commissioner Ali Kadiye Mohamed, the Luuq district’s local administrator.
To help alleviate the situation, UN humanitarian agencies are collaborating closely with implementing partners on the ground.
To help improve sanitation conditions, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been trucking water into camps like the Boyle IDP camp, as well as constructing water tanks and pit latrines.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is collaborating with Trocaire, an Irish charity, to treat, feed, and stabilize children admitted with severe malnutrition at the Luuq District Hospital, which is partially funded by UNICEF. Staff on the ground report that the situation has gotten worse.
“62 malnourished children were admitted here in January.” The number increased to 100 in February, and it now stands at 114 as of March 21,” said Abdirahman Mohamed Kasim, the hospital’s chief nurse.
“As soon as these children arrive at the hospital,” he continues, “we give them milk for primary and secondary malnutrition, and then we transfer them to other feeding centers where they receive high-energy biscuits and treatment for any further illnesses.”
Women and children in Luuq are receiving preventative and curative nutrition support from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which is implementing cash and food voucher programs for vulnerable groups in Somalia. The humanitarian food agency is expanding its interventions, with the goal of providing food assistance to 2.5 million people in the first half of this year. However, like so many other UN agencies, it can only do so if it receives additional funding, in this case $203 million to close a funding gap.
Looking out from his home in the IDP camp in Luuq, Mr. Yarrow sees issues of funding for the country’s humanitarian response as distant, academic concerns. His needs, as well as the needs of the many other displaced Somalis who are starving, are more pressing.
“Everything we had has been wiped out by this drought,” he says. “We are relieved to be here at this IDP camp, where we are receiving assistance, but there are far too many of us, and we are having difficulty.” Food, water, and shelter are insufficient. Many women, the elderly, and children are malnourished and ill, but they lack access to medicine. We’re doing our best to stay alive, but we’re in desperate need of assistance.”