Field Diary: Recovering from a brush with death in SomaliaOne year ago, on 20 July 2011, the United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia, the flashpoint in a humanitarian crisis gripping the Horn of Africa. After an outpouring of international support, the famine ended in February 2012, and countless lives across the region were saved. But 8 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya remain in need of humanitarian assistance, and UNICEF’s relief efforts must continue. Freelance journalist Abdi Aziiz Abdi Nur, in Mogadishu, Somalia, reports on those affected.
By Abdi Aziiz Abdi Nur
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 25 July 2012 – In September 2011, two months after famine was officially declared in the Horn of Africa by the United Nations, I was in the southern region of Somalia – the hardest-hit area.
Memories of the famine-stricken
When I arrived at the makeshift camp in Hodan District, hundreds of people were queuing in food distribution lines. Others were wandering, not sure where to go. Everyone was shocked and frustrated.
The guards at the site were pushing the women around, forcing them forward or out of the way. They were untrained, and had no care for the dignity of these women and their children.
At this time, I was visiting many camps, speaking to people fleeing drought and famine. In the camp, they were coming from Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle – thousands of new arrivals every day – arriving in Mogadishu by foot, seeking life. Places that were empty, wild land were becoming entire cities.
As I was taking photos and speaking to people, I heard a baby crying. The cries of hungry children were not new to me, but something about this cry grabbed me.
I found the crying child, 4-year-old Abdi, in a make-shift hut, covered in torn clothing. His mother, Nuriyo Qorhse Osman, was worried their situation.
Ms. Osman told me that where she lived in Ali Futow in Lower Shabelle, she had 200 cows, and she was a prominent woman there. “I never thought that this could happen,” she said. “And here in Mogadishu, there is no relief, no food, it is like this, and children die of hunger.”
Abdi’s cries began to subside as I gave him water with sugar, but the signs of malnutrition were visible on his little body.
Ms. Osman had already lost her 8-year-old son to measles on the way to Mogadishu. “Nobody supports us… no farms, no life and I don’t know where to go,” she said.
Three days later, Abdi was taken by an NGO to a medical clinic in the centre of the city, where he received care.
“He stayed in the hospital about 29 days until he recovered,” she later told me. “I didn’t think that he would make it. His brother is buried around here, and that memory is always with me.”
‘He can now walk’
Five months have passed since Abdi left the clinic. For months Ms. Osman continued to feed him therapeutic nutritional paste and followed doctors’ orders. “He can now walk – no one thought it would happen,” she said. But life has remained difficult.
To meet the needs of her three children, Ms. Osman found work in Bakara, Somalia’s biggest and busiest market. She goes to the market early in the morning, leaving her children alone in the camp all day, returning in the evening with her US$1 earnings, happy knowing that with this she can make dinner for her children. But it is not an existence she wants for the future. “I would have liked to be relocated and supported,” she said. “I want to return [home] if there is help.”
Abdi is 5 years old now. He smiles and greets people, as if last year’s brush with death never happened. He is making plans to celebrate with his friends on the upcoming Eid al-fitr.
I can say the situation has improved because when you are in Mogadishu’s camps, you hear people discussing marriage and the future, whereas last year everybody was discussing who was going to die.
Not everything is fine, and there are many dangers and challenges ahead, but little by little, it does seem to be getting better.