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Somalia afflicted by worst drought in decade

© UNICEF Somalia/2006/ Bannon
Families have walked for days to arrive at this camp west of Wajid, Somalia, in the hope of accessing water and humanitarian assistance.

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson

WAJID, Somalia, 8 February 2006 – Like thousands of others in Somalia, 26-year old Faduma Adow Bolis is dealing with the latest misfortune to beset her people. The country, challenged by years of inter-clan conflict and limited access to basic social services, now faces the worst drought in a decade.

“There is a drought in the area and we are hungry,” Faduma explains. “We kill dik dik (small antelopes). This is how we stay alive. The whole situation is difficult, we are hungry, the whole area, the whole country is the same.”

A ravaged landscape

The drought is ravaging the country–especially in the south where localized conflicts further compound the situation.

Crop production is expected to be the lowest in over a decade and cattle deaths in the worst affected areas have already reached 20-30 per cent and could reach 80 per cent by April.

Reports suggest that an estimated 1.5 million people in the North, Central and Southern regions of the country are in an acute state of food crisis. Malnutrition rates have reached over 25% in some areas and are expected to worsen in the coming months.

Water catchment areas have also dried up, displacing up to 400,000 people.

In one village the watering hole has been dry since November 2005. According to Chief Malak Mohammed Mohlem, the 80-year old water catchment hasn’t been this dry since 1991. “The biggest priority is the water. When someone is bleeding, the first thing you do is stop the bleeding. So if there’s no water, there’s no life.”

© UNICEF Somalia/2006/ Bannon
A goat searches for water in vain. The nearest water basin has been empty for the past 70 days. Cattle have already begun to die because of the drought.

People fleeing worst drought-affected areas

Due to its high water table, the town of Wajid has already attracted over 12,000 people from outlying areas. They are pouring into the town seeking food and water.

Habiba Madker travelled with her three children for five days to reach Wajid. “We had a very difficult journey. We didn’t have proper transport. I carried the children on my back,” she says.

“We didn’t get any food support since we came, even I cannot go out for firewood because I can’t leave the children behind. The children are sick because they are hungry. I cannot go back to where I came from.”

To combat this situation, UNICEF is working with partner agencies and local communities to provide school tents and establish food distribution sites adjacent to them.

UNICEF is helping communities like Kulaan Jurrer, near Wajid, to build water tanks.

UNICEF Somalia Emergency officer, Bob McCarthy, is concerned that with the number of people are coming from greater distances with their animals, there won’t be enough water to replenish the well. “[For] two rainy seasons in a row, the rain has not fallen anywhere near the normal average levels so there’s some concern as to how we’re going to keep this borehole operating over the coming months [and] we have 3 months of dry weather ahead before the next rainy season.”

Therapeutic feeding programmes

Meanwhile, UNICEF is conducting a survey to determine the nutritional status of children in the area to guide their food supplementation and therapeutic feeding programmes.

The distribution of fortified food will help to curb malnutrition as well as the outbreak of disease. Growth monitoring will assess the height and weight of children aged 6 months to 5 years.

With less than 10 per cent of children in the affected areas immunised against measles and polio, there is the threat of major disease outbreak. UNICEF is stepping up its vaccination and vitamin A campaigns against these childhood diseases.

UNICEF Somalia is seeking approximately US$3.7 million over the next three months as part of the recent UNICEF Humanitarian Action Report appeal to support drought intervention in Somalia.




8 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Warden reports on the severe drought afflicting Somalia.

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8 February 2006:
Somalia's severe drought displaces large numbers of women and children.
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