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East Africa on the brink of famine

East Africa on the brink of famine
April 28, 2015
April 28, 2015 April 28, 2015

More than 20 million people across the Horn of Africa are facing a humanitarian catastrophe as the United Nations warns of a famine within the next six months. Journalist SHANAAZ EBRAHIM-GIRE, who is currently in Nairobi, visited some drought-affected areas and filed this report.

AID organisations are stepping up their operations in East Africa in a bid to save the lives of some 12,8 million people in Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia, who are severely food insecure.

Drought conditions have reached critical levels, and families are starving, having lost their livestock and livelihoods.

I have been deployed to Islamic Relief Worldwide’s regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, to coordinate media during this emergency period.

Over the past few weeks, I travelled to Somalia and parts of Kenya to get a first-hand account of the effects that this prolonged drought have had on communities.

About 2,1 million internally displaced people – subsistence farmers and pastoralists – have been forced to leave their homes, while a further 2,3 million refugees are in need of assistance as a result of regional instability and conflict. There is also a health crisis looming, with outbreaks of cholera reported in parts of Somalia and Ethiopia.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha) reports that approximately ‘600 000 children aged five to six years in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia will be in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2017 and this number is expected to rise rapidly’.

Women and children worst affected

Latest statistics indicate that about 6,2 million people – half the total population of Somalia – are in need of humanitarian aid, and, of them, almost three million are facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity.

No amount of journalism training could have prepared me for what I saw during a visit to the Caynabo camp for internally displaced people (IDP).

Mainly women, children and the elderly were living in shocking conditions. In some cases, families of up to ten people were sleeping in a makeshift hut no bigger than three metres wide, and made of old clothes and plastic bags.

At the time of our visit, the camp was not formally registered with the UNHCR and there was no support received from the local government officials. The Caynabo camp we visited was just one of four similar camps that housed approximately 500 families each.

A mother of ten children, Zeinab Mohammed Warsame, has been living in the Caynabo IDP camp for two months.

She moved her family to the camp after all their livestock died due to the severe drought conditions.

‘My children are hungry. We have not eaten in days.

‘We depend on relatives and the host community, who distribute left-over food … but we are more than 500 families living in this camp and so many of us are starving.

‘We need help,’ Warsame related.

Warsame’s young daughter, Fatima, suffers from epilepsy. Her mother is worried that if she does not receive the necessary treatment, she will not survive.

‘I used to transport my daughter around using one of our camels. I carry her around now. There is no clinic here and the nearest doctor is 120 kilometres away, in Burao town.

‘I do not have any money to pay for the medicines she needs to get better.’

Like Warsame, Fatouma and her children were uprooted from their home when their livestock died and the water dried up in their village. We found her living in the Daynile camp, on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

‘Fatouma walked for ten days with her children in search of food and water, finding their way to the Daynile camp. This mother lost her three children along the way. Nuratu, Gadiju and Osman were buried along the side of the road during that harrowing journey,’ Islamic Relief’s Tufail Hussein explained.

Islamic Relief response plan

According to Islamic Relief’s regional director, Yusuf Ahmed, the levels of poverty and food insecurity has reached critical levels, and he appeals to the international community to respond as a matter of urgency.

‘In Warap state, South Sudan, we have seen cases where people have started cooking and eating leaves…

‘It is very sad to see that in a world where there is so much waste, people are dying because they do not have food to eat…

‘In Ethiopia, we came across mothers and children who came to the main road when they heard our vehicle approaching.

‘We immediately stopped and offered them assistance,’ Ahmed said.

Islamic Relief has been providing life-saving water trucking services to communities in Ethiopia, targeting 30 000 people on a weekly basis.

Furthermore, a supplementary food programme has been rolled out, targeting young children, and pregnant and lactating mothers.

In Somalia, the Islamic Relief team is on the ground distributing food in villages and refugee camps.

To support Islamic Relief’s East Africa appeal, please donate online at or make a direct deposit in the following bank account: Islamic Relief SA, Standard Bank, Account Number 005318459, Fordsburg Branch/ Branch Code 005205, Reference: East Africa & contact number.

Camps for internally displaced people, such as Caynabo, in Somalia, have been set up as aid agencies face an uphill struggle to feed millions who face ­starvation as a result of the drought that has severely affected parts of East Africa. The writer points out that living conditions in these camps are ‘shocking’.
Photo HASSAN EL BANNA, courtesy Islamic Relief Worldwide

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