Somalis in arduous death march
The first aid from the UN World Food Programme was airlifted into Mogadishu this week - but it came too late for Qadija Ali's two-year-old son, Farah.
He died in his mother's arms as Ali and her eight other children made the 16-day journey from their drought-stricken village in Wanlaweyn district, southern Somalia, to Mogadishu.
"I carried him a whole day while he was dead, thinking he was alive and just asleep. We did not have anything to give him. No water or food for three days," an emotional Ali said at Badbado Camp on the outskirts of the Somali capital.
Ali's family had been a wealthy one, with 50 head of cattle, 20 goats and five camels, before the onset of the drought in southern Somalia two years ago.
"It started with (a) shortage of rains for the first three seasons and then no rains followed. Grass dried up, wells and rivers dried up. Our animals began dying one after another as there was no pasture or water for them," Ali said.
Her husband remained in their village to look after the family's belongings, and she has no idea of his fate. Ali made the arduous journey along with hundreds of other families to escape the severe drought and famine in search of aid.
But many children arrive at the camp too weak and malnourished to be saved.
Most are too small for their age with a three-year-old having the frame and stature of a one-year-old.
In a report for countries sending aid, the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said the "crisis in southern Somalia is expected to continue to worsen through 2011, with all areas of the south slipping into famine".
The situation was severe right across the Horn of Africa, in Somalia, northern Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, Ocha said. Food shortages were expected to reach crisis levels in refugee areas in August and September, according to the report.
Muna Igeh, a nurse at Badbado, which means rescue, said: "They come here very weak from hunger and exhaustion. Two or three children and adults die every week in Mogadishu, but we have no exact statistics as camps are located in diverse places in the town."
Daahir Gabow, a father of seven, had to watch as two of his children died just after they arrived in Mogadishu.
He says doctors and nurses did everything they could to save his second child, a girl, but "fate had its way".
"We walked for 21 days. (We) ate (and) drank what we could find and slept where the sun set on us. This is not what I have seen or (what) my father told me happened in his lifetime. (These are) testing times so we have to be patient and strong," Gabow says.
Somalia is the country worst affected by the drought, with an estimated 11 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The crisis is being called the worst in 60 years.
The agency estimates that in total 2.23 million children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia were acutely malnourished. The UN says it has delivered 1300 metric tonnes of supplies to southern Somalia.
It says almost 100000 displaced people have arrived in Mogadishu, with nearly 40000 of those in the past month.
Ocha said the situation in the worst-affected areas of Ethiopia and Kenya was expected to ease from emergency to crisis levels towards the end of this year.
But the crisis in Somalia was intensified by fighting, with much of the country controlled by Islamist al-Shabaab militias who have been preventing some aid agencies bringing in supplies. - IPS and Reuters