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Somalia on the brink of famine

The Horn of Africa region faces a fifth failed rainy season

Children sit on water bottles waiting to be filled at a displacement camp in Baidoa, Somalia. Getty Images/Photo by Ed Ram

Somalia on the brink of famine

During the audience feedback segment last week on Radio Ergo, the Somalian humanitarian station, a resident of the country’s Sahil region called in to complain about the worsening drought. He was one of an unusually high number of callers to speak out about the lack of water or fodder for their dying animals.

“Our livestock have perished, and the inflation rates have soared,” he said. “We need help.”

Somalia is on the brink of a formal famine declaration—a rare move that indicates more than a fifth of households have an extreme lack of food, more than 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished, and at least 2 in 10,000 people are dying daily from malnutrition or starvation. The country falls under the larger Horn of Africa region that’s battling four straight failed rainy seasons and is set to enter a fifth one next month. Aid agencies are now calling for greater attention and aid to stave off more deaths.

The World Food Program says 7.1 million people in Somalia need urgent food assistance. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network this week warned that three areas in the country’s southeastern Bay region could face famine beginning next month without urgent aid.

In its weekly report, Radio Ergo said callers from across the nation also complained of rising prices due to inflation. One South West state resident said the cost of water had nearly doubled. Families are also leaving their dried-out farms and dead animals for displacement camps, where help is limited.

“I couldn’t get out of my head the tiny mounds of ground marking children’s graves,” UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director Rania Dagash said last week. “I’m from this region, and I’ve never seen it so bad.”

Aid workers say the effect could be worse than Somalia’s 2011 famine when about 260,000 people died. At least 730 children have died in nutrition centers across the country, while more than 230,000 people are at “imminent risk” of dying.

Security forces are also still battling rising attacks from the Islamic terror group al-Shabaab.

Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, said the nation urgently needs at least $1 billion to avoid a famine. “We’ve been banging the drum and rattling the trees trying to get support internationally in terms of attention, prospects, and the possibilities and the horror of famine coming to the Horn of Africa—here in Somalia, maybe first, but Ethiopia and Kenya, probably they’re not far behind,” he said in a video briefing.

World radar

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IRAN: Authorities are planning to use facial recognition on public transportation to identify women who defy a hijab law, The Guardian reported on Monday. Iran has required women to wear hijabs since the 1979 revolution, but some have pushed back against the dress code. The surveillance technology plan comes as President Ebrahim Raisi has tightened regulations on women’s attire in recent months. In the ongoing crackdown, authorities arrested a woman in July for refusing to wear a headscarf and made her apologize on television.

TIBET: The Chinese government has expanded DNA collection efforts across this autonomous region of China, Human Rights Watch said in a report Monday. The group identified 14 localities across all seven prefectures, or municipalities, that held collection drives, including taking kindergartners’ blood samples. Officials claim these efforts help fight crime, but the rights organization found “no publicly available evidence” that the police have credible proof to warrant such collection—or that people can refuse to have their genetic samples taken. The group said compelled mass DNA sampling is a serious human rights violation. Human Rights Watch also reported on China’s 2017 biometric data collection from millions of residents in Xinjiang.

MOZAMBIQUE: A local insurgent group linked to Islamic State killed six Mozambicans and an 84-year-old Italian nun on Tuesday night. The group has focused its attacks in the northern Cabo Delgado province, but Tuesday’s killings happened in Nampula province. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the violence, saying its fighters also burned a church and other properties linked to a Christian mission in the village. Sister Maria De Coppi had served in Mozambique since 1963. Meanwhile, an 83-year-old American nun abducted by insurgents in Burkina Faso gained her freedom last week.

ZIMBABWE: The southern African nation’s Health Ministry this week said more than 700 children have died in an ongoing measles outbreak. The ministry recorded more than 6,500 cases since the outbreak began in April. Authorities have launched a vaccination drive for children ages 6 months to 15 years old. But they are still battling some resistance from religious groups such as the Johane Marange Apostolic sect, which asks members not to seek vaccinations or medical treatment for ailments.

WORLD correspondent Erica Kwong contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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