Africa. The worst drought since 1950: carcasses of cows along the roads, fathers bury their children killed by famine. Like Hamdi, six months old, who weighed as a newborn. The winner reportage of the Luchetta Award 2017

Somalia, starving to death

This year, the hopes of the population were pinned on the seasonal rains in Somalia, but they began two weeks late. And rainfall was definitely below average.

Trapped in the grip of an unprecedented drought, in terms of extent and persistence, Somalia is on the brink of the abyss. The latest figures show that at least half of the Somali people, 6 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance and over 185 thousand severely malnourished Somali children are in danger of death.

Famine is not just hunger, but it also brings diseases and cholera. The number of children at risk of severe malnutrition is likely to increase. But the growing number of cases of measles and cholera weigh on the alarming spike in infant deaths.

The only hope is a humanitarian aid deployment by the UN and other organizations, but their space for action is plagued by safety issues.

Al-Shabaab has organized attacks throughout the entire country, preventing the organizations from doing their jobs effectively. This is why at the end of 2017, we will count more than one million and 400 thousand malnourished children in Somalia, their lives at risk.

Stories of displaced children who followed their families, who migrated before the war and then under the weight of the famine. Stories like Hamdi’s, that I’d like to share with you now.
In a Somali hospital where dozens of infants are taken to receive emergency treatment, in Garowe, the skin and bone girl lay listless in the arms of her mother Ayaan.

07storie-somalia-mirror-parry-02-512x341Andrew Stenning/Daily Mirror

She was six months old but weighed less than 8 pounds, the average weight of a newborn in Britain. She turned her head slowly toward me, she was covered with white patches, her mouth was reddened and full of sores, her eyes glued and sore.

Hamdi was so hungry that her immune system had stopped working, making her vulnerable to infection. She seemed about to die.

The doctor Said Hamed explained: “The child is so malnourished that her immune system is not responding. She has been suffering like this for months and she is no longer able to eat. And her mother cannot breastfeed her anymore: she is too malnourished to do it.”

After three years without rain, the longest drought since 1950, Somalia has been crushed by emergency. Death runs on the arid plains of the Horn of Africa, already hitting hard, raging on children, one after another.
Hamdi is only one of the twenty million people affected by an unprecedented famine affecting four countries: Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.

In Somalia, the drought has killed 60 percent of the livestock, a key resource for families. The latest polls denounce chilling data: 363 thousand children suffer from malnutrition and 71 thousand are as severely affected as Hamdi.

Without cattle or goats to barter for a handful of rice or flour, Somali families like Hamdi’s, who live in the rocky red sand desert, have nothing.

They roam their arid land with no hope of help. The situation is so dramatic that when a brief rain fell on a coastal region, in December last year, 30 thousand nomads moved to the area in the hope of saving their flock, leaving their wives and children alone in the camps.

Not everyone did, however: in a hutch made of corrugated iron on the outskirts of Garowe, I met Nour Jees, 43, Asluub’s father: a desperate man, his daughter was not even three weeks old, when she was killed by acute diarrhea.
Sh had drunk polluted water after the long drought. Nour Jees took me to her grave, a heap of stones over a small hole in the sand. A piece of land reserved for dead children where I counted more than 100 graves, 28 dug only in the last month.

tom-parry-prod-somalia-famine-drought-509x512Tom Parry, winner of the Luchetta Award 2017

In the arid land of Puntland, where until recently Somali pirates lorded, the signs of drought are visible everywhere. Carcasses of cows and goats rot in the streets, covered by clouds of flies. There is no vegetation except for a few thorny acacia bushes. Nothing grows in the relentless scorching desert heat. Our vehicle leaves behind a cloud of dust as we head towards the far Uskure camp. After decades of unrest, yet another catastrophe in the arid Somalia: the fight against nature continues and the first victims are defenseless children as Hamdi.

Her cry was so weak that you couldn’t even hear it, among the cries of the desperate children in the hospital ward. Looking at her, so sick and in pain, I could almost see her life slipping away before my eyes.

Hamdi has fought against hunger from the first day when she saw the light, she had the worst case of malnutrition I’ve ever seen. I went back to Britain and, after a week, I received the news of her death and it was a terrible shock. The doctors had done the impossible to save her but her condition was hopeless.

The report published in this page is among the winners of the International Journalism Award Marco Luchetta 2017. The final event “Our Angels,” airing today on RaiUno Channel, will be held at the Politeama Rossetti theater in Trieste

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