Caught in vicious cycle of drought and conflict

Gioia Forster –
The fine red dust kicked up by the wind gets everywhere, burning the eyes. The sun beats down on the heads of the women gathered in the centre of the camp at Doolow for internally displaced people in south-western Somalia, their babies looking out from the colourful robes.
Corrugated iron huts offer scant shade to the women sitting on the parched earth. Drought has hit here with full force, and the atmosphere is one of resignation.
“I lost everything at home,” says Habiba Isaak, her youthful face framed by a green-and-lilac headscarf and a 4-month-old baby slung over her front.
Isaak’s 3-year-old daughter is similarly dressed, as she looks after her brother, aged 18 months. The family is awaiting the arrival of the aid workers.
Isaak, who is 21, relates how she and her husband eked out a living with their 10 goats some 150 kilometres away in the centre of the country.
When the goats died, they made their way to Kabasa camp on the outskirts of Doolow on the border with Ethiopia to join others driven from their homes by the latest drought in the region.
More than 5 million people in the country are currently in need of aid in a population of 14.3 million. Famine claimed the lives of more than 250,000 in 2011. Only strenuous efforts have been able to avert a similar disaster in the latest drought.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Thursday listed Somalia as an area of concern, as it noted that the number of food-insecure people rose from 2016 to 2017.
“Recurrent drought, food insecurity and famine have become a devastating reality in Somalia in recent decades,” the UN Development Programme says.
Climatologist Chris Funk of the US Geological Survey notes that 20 years ago, droughts occurred every five years. The pattern now is of poor rains every two to three years.
Steven Lauwerier, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) Somalia representative, is focused on the needs of babies and young children. “We are starting with the most important,” he says.
According to Unicef figures, every eighth child dies before reaching the age of 5, and a third are suffering the effects of malnutrition. This year, a million children are predicted to be underfed, with a quarter of them facing a life-threatening situation.
The sun is beating down on the gathering place in the centre of Kabasa camp, as the mothers listen to an aid worker with the UN Food Programme as she explains how breast feeding works to prevent malnutrition and protects against disease.
Other workers measure the circumference of the babies’ arms as they sit lifelessly on their mothers’ laps, watching the proceedings with big, glassy eyes. Others cry as they are weighed.
The data are digitally recorded on a card the families also use to draw their food allowances. The aid workers then track the children’s progress and are better able to assess when intervention is needed.
According to UN figures, up to 60 per cent of the livestock have died in certain regions of the country during the latest drought.
WFP country director Liljana Jovceva says Somalis have to learn to adapt to climate change — by varying the livestock they keep, planting drought-resistant crop varieties and managing resources differently.
The climate is by no means the whole story. The UN’s special representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, operates from an office in the high-security zone near Mogadishu airport, guarded by heavily armed troops behind a high wall.
Outside, attacks by the Al Shabaab militia, which controls swathes of southern Somalia, are an almost daily occurrence. One Mogadishu attack in October claimed more than 500 lives.
Certain regions of the country are inaccessible to aid workers as a result.
The violence has led to a situation where 2 million Somalis are internally displaced, with half of them having left their homes over the past year. — dpa