Save the Children Media Manager, Tom Arup, recently spent nearly a month in Puntland, Somalia, travelling through regions withered from drought. He documented the lives of children and their families who have lost everything and who are now facing starvation.
“What struck me most was the level of alarm in everybody,” Arup said. “We were constantly told by the pastoralists and health workers we met that this was the worst drought they had ever experienced. And there was genuine fear among the people living in camps that they would not find enough food or clean water each day to survive,”
For months on end, the proud pastoralists of Puntland have been waking up to the ominous certainty of a cloudless sky. Many have travelled for thousands of kilometres with their herds, in a futile quest for more fertile land.
“We witnessed great movement of people, who were using their remaining money to cart their camels, goats and sheep across the country in the hope of finding some pasture to keep them alive.”
But the earth is drier than ever.
As growing numbers of livestock perish, their herders – with nothing left and nowhere to go – are forced to gather in makeshift camps. Many families are struggling to cope due to soaring water and food prices.
“In the worst drought hit areas we met some of the families who had been left behind because they were too weak to travel or could not afford to move their animals,” Arup says. “These people had few prospects besides what humanitarian assistance and nearby communities could provide, and the hope that rain might come.”
More than six million people, half of them children, are now in need of urgent life-saving assistance across Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia.
The situation is part of what the UN is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945 with more than 20 million people across Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and South Sudan staring starvation and famine directly in the eye.
Humanitarian organisations are doing what they can to ease the suffering. Save the Children is currently providing emergency food assistance, water trucking, cash transfers, and emergency medical assistance to those most affected. But all aid agencies are stretched like never before by the sheer scale and breadth of need.
For the pastoralists in Puntland, the wait for rain is painful. There is talk it will come by mid-April. In the meantime, livestock is disappearing, the camps are growing and children are starting to die of disease.
Hassan Noor Saadi is Save the Children’s Country Director for Somalia. “More than 360,000 children under five are already acutely malnourished across Somalia alone, including 71,000 severe cases who are at risk of death,” he reports.
“What we’re seeing on the ground suggests we’re at a tipping point – a significant worsening of malnutrition cases tells us a famine isn't far off. In some places, we’re now seeing dead camels – normally a grim precursor to a loss in human life.”
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