Drought / East Africa / Food Security / Nutrition / Somalia

Barely breathing: The famine crisis in Somalia deepens

Somalia, July 2011.

Photo on Flickr by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation Turkey.

Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa correspondent for the New York Times, reports that Somalia’s spreading famine and agony is testing the limits of aid.

At Benadir Hospital, in Mogadishu, Gettleman watches children die.

In Benadir, there is a room full of old blue cots, one after another, where the sickest children lie. On each bed, a little life is passing away. Some children cry, but most are quiet. The skin on their feet and hands is peeling off. All their bones show, like skeletons covered in parchment. I was standing just a few feet away from Kufow Ali Abdi, a destitute nomad, as he looked down on his dying daughter, and when the time came, there was no mystery, no fuss.

I watched Mr. Kufow carefully unhook the I.V. that was attached to her shriveled body and then wrap her up in blue cloth. Her name was Kadija and she was 3 years old and probably not more than 20 pounds. Mr. Kufow walked out of the room, lightly carrying Kadija’s body in his arms.’

‘At least five children died that day in Benadir. At a camp not far away, . . . I was told that 10 had died. Across Somalia, it’s hundreds a day. . . . [T]his current crisis in Somalia is on a different order of magnitude than the typical calamity, if there is such a thing. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and as many as 750,000 could soon starve to death, the United Nations says, the equivalent of the entire populations of Miami and Pittsburgh. . . .

‘[S]upport—meaning dollars—has been frustratingly scant. While many more lives are at stake in Somalia’s crisis, other recent disasters pulled in far more money. For instance, Save the Children U.S. has raised a little more than $5 million in private donations for the Horn of Africa crisis, which includes Somalia and the drought-inflicted areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. That contrasts with what Save the Children raised in 2004 for the Indonesian tsunami ($55.4 million) or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 ($28.2 million) or even the earthquake in Japan earlier this year ($22.8 million)—and Japan is a rich country. . . .

‘All this might easily lead one to conclude that Somalia is beyond hope and that hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, no matter what. But that’s not true. Aid agencies are making progress, though the situation is far from ideal. . . .

‘It is important to remember that however plagued Somalia is, however routine conflict, drought and disease have become, however many Somalis have already needlessly died, Somalis are not somehow wired differently from the rest of us. They are not numb to suffering. They are not grief-proof. I’ll never forget the expression on Mr. Kufow’s face as he stumbled out of Benadir Hospital into the penetrating sunshine with his lifeless little girl in his arms. He may not have been weeping openly. But he looked as if he could barely breathe.’

Read the whole article at the New York Times: Somalia’s agony tests limits of aid, 1 November 2011.

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