By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 8 August 2011 – Habib Isack has left her home in Wajid, southern Somalia, for the first time – but not by choice. Drought killed her crops and her livestock. Sheer desperation drove her to take her children and set out on foot for Doolow, near the border with Ethiopia, in search of help.
|VIDEO: 4 August 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the massive scale-up of emergency aid efforts in response to the famine in southern Somalia. Watch in RealPlayer|
“It took me nine days to get here from Wajid,” she said. “On the way, I was very hungry. We had no money to buy food. My husband sent me here alone, so I had to make the journey alone, carrying my children. I thought I’d die from hunger.”
Ms. Isack and her family are receiving three meals a day at the UNICEF-supported feeding centre at a displacement camp in Doolow. The camp is part of programme to help the millions of Somalis who have been driven out of their homes by famine and conflict.
Children at immediate risk
Many people at the feeding centre have faced long and dangerous journeys to get to Doolow and are in poor health.
|Aid workers cook and serve maize at a feeding centre at a camp for displaced people in Mogadishu, Somalia.|
“We have some that are in an OK state because they have only come from about 50 kilometres away,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Erin McClowskey. “But some who have come from further, the Baye and Baiboa areas, are very weak. They are very thin and some of them have a lot of illnesses.”
The famine, which could spread to all of southern Somalia in the next few weeks, has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, half of them children under the age of five. The lives of more than a million children are at immediate risk.
“We are seeing now that the proportion of malnourished children who are severely malnourished is already at 50 per cent,” said UNICEF Representative in Somalia Rozanne Chorlton. “This is an extremely worrying proportion.”
UNICEF and its partners are racing to step up their emergency response to the crisis in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. So far, the agency has brought in enough supplies to feed 65,000 children in southern Somalia. An estimated $177 million will be needed to reach all Somali children in need over the next six months.
|A man who is carrying his sick daughter is stopped at a security checkpoint at a clinic in Mogadishu, where many patients have come in search of food.|
“Somalia has had a programme which has been rapidly expanding for nutrition over the last three or four years, and we are covering all of the country with about 500 centres for treatment of acute malnutrition,” said UNICEF Senior Nutrition Manager Peter Hailey.
“Using that as a base now for the emergency that we are facing,” he added, “we are rapidly scaling up that programming – including using mobile teams and community health workers to reach out to as many children as possible.”
Treatment saves lives
This support is already saving lives. In Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, a mother of four brought her malnourished young son to a UNICEF feeding centre and recalled the ordeal they had endured.
The mother had walked about 160 km through drought-stricken land get help. Like many others, she has seen her livelihood and her children’s health disintegrate. “We had cows, and over the two years with no rain, all was lost,” she said. “They all died.”
Thanks to treatment at the feeding centre, however, her son is recovering.
Crisis in the Horn of Africa
In Kenya, school offers meals and shelter