Millions Facing Misery in Somalia Famine

Struggling through parched bush and baking heat, Rahmo Mohammed brought her severely malnourished son Saeed to Ethiopia's Kobe refugee camp to save him.

That was three weeks ago, and he is still not better, his frail body too sick to accept medicine.

"He's getting worse. I would like to get him more medicine," his mother said sadly. "Even when they give him medicine, he will not take it."

Mohammed, along with tens of thousands of Somalis like her, walked for days in desperate search of relief from the extreme drought, the most severe food crisis in Africa for two decades.

Famine has hit two southern Somali regions, with up to 350,000 people affected there, the UN said on Wednesday.

Conflict-ridden Somalia is the worst affected nation, but the drought has hit parts of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti, with 12 million people needing emergency aid.

Saeed is one of 2,200 children receiving emergency feeding treatment from Doctors without Borders (MSF) at Dolo Ado, a dust-blown camp on Ethiopia's border with Somalia.

The camp has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, with a death rate of seven per 10,000 people, or seven times the normal rate, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

"The mortality rates are very, very high," said Jo Hegenauer, UNHCR's emergency coordinator.

"They haven't gone down yet, we're trying to reduce the number of people who are dying from malnutrition," he added.

But many of the children arriving at the camp are too malnourished to be saved, said Joe Belliveau, MSF manager for Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland.

"The fact that they're showing up in a state that is so far gone, (and) that with immediate, urgent medical attention they still succumb, indicates a horrendous situation," he said.

Those dying are being buried in simple graves beside the camp.

"The other day they found a lot of graves," said Takos Vassilis, an MSF nurse at the camp.

The UNHCR say the numbers of new arrivals are down from a few weeks ago, when up to 2,700 people were pouring into the camps every day.

But all three camps in the region are full, and the transit centre already holds over 10,000 people waiting for more permanent settlement.

A new camp is slated to open next week, Hegenauer said. "We should be able to move about 2,000 people a day into the new camp."

It will be the second new settlement established since late June when Kobe opened.

It took just three weeks before Kobe reached its capacity of 25,000, and people continue to arrive seeking food, medicine and shelter.

"We had nothing to eat, we needed to eat something, we had no food," said Raho Jimale, a mother of three, with her youngest strapped to her chest.

Jimale arrived exhausted in the camp on Monday after a week-long trek from Somalia.

Her family's crops had failed, and their 50-strong herd of goats had died.

Her husband left three months ago in search of water but never returned, forcing Jimale to leave too.

"It was a difficult decision," she said, clutching a ration of high-nutrient biscuits.

Many arriving at the camp construct basic shelters of rags stretched over branches. For some, the camp provides relief.

"I came here to get food and beef, and as long as I am having these two, I will stay here," said Abdi Ali, another Somali refugee.

But others still struggle to get the medicine and aid they need for thier families.

Sonto Hussein, a mother of five who left her disabled husband behind in Somalia, cradles her crying son who is sick with diarrhoea.

"He is still sick because he is lacking medicine," she said.


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