Fatima and her family walked for 80 kilometers to find foodEvery day thousands leave their homes and start walking towards Somalia's urban areas in search of food and water. One of them is 50-year-old Fatima Aden. Pained by seeing her children hungry, she decided to uproot her family and go to Dollow in southern Somalia in the hope of finding help.
The camp site has nothing but a water point. Actually, it's not even a real camp site. But this is where 50-year-old Fatima Aden and her family have found temporary shelter. They have hung rags and plastic bags over a group of small trees without any leaves. This provides a bit of protection from the burning sun. It is not exactly a pleasant place to stay, but it's better than the place Fatima and her family came from because this place has something essential: water.
"We walked for three days," she says and explains that for the past three years the rainy seasons have been extraordinarily short, which has had a dramatic impact on the family’s life:
"All our livestock died and I did not want us to suffer the same destiny. That is why we left."
Fatima and her husband, children and grandchildren decided to leave their village. In their hunt for food and water, they all started walking including Fatima's youngest daughter who is eight years old and her three-year-old granddaughter.
They walked for about 80 kilometers before reaching Dollow and the water point.
"The situation due to the drought is very bad. Before, we had many animals. We sold them. We slaughtered them and ate them. We got milk from them. They were our livelihood. Now they are all dead and we have nothing to live off. I thank God that there is water here, but there is nowhere to find decent shelter, and there is no food."
She still worries about how to feed her family.
"The pain you feel when you look at your child who is not getting enough to eat – well, you know what I mean," she says while nodding, searching for an affirmative reaction.
And here in Dollow many do know what she means and share similar stories.
People gather at the water post outside Dollow. Many have walked for days in their search for water and food. Photo: Sara Schlüter / DRC.
945,000 children in Somalia at risk of severe malnutrition
The UN warns that due to the hunger crisis in Somalia as well as South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen the world is facing the greatest humanitarian disaster since its establishment in 1945. An outright famine has already been declared in South Sudan, while it seems to be only a matter of time before the situation reach the same dramatic level in the other countries. Neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of Uganda are also severely affected.
Without additional emergency aid to Somalia, up to 945,000 children are at risk of being severely malnourished within the next months. Among them are Fatima's children and grandchildren.
Fatima looks tired as she talks about her family's situation. The fatigue is not only caused by the heat and dust, but also the lack of food.
"Since breakfast yesterday, I have not had anything but tea," says Fatima: "I am very grateful that there is water here, but we don’t have anything else. I do not know when I will get something to eat. I don’t know if we will have any food today. Right now we are just waiting."
According to the Danish Refugee Council’s project manager in the area, Abdul Rahman Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi there are currently too many people in Dollow compared to the available resources. He is struggling to ensure help to the thousands of people who are gathering at the makeshift camp site at the water point.
"As soon as we receive the funds for it, we will begin to help. We will build toilets and improve the supply of water. It will save many lives, because we will be able to reduce the risk of outbreak of infectious diseases," he says.
Abdul Rahman explains that the UN World Food Programme is working hard to ensure that many new arrivals can get something to eat.
Fatima has not received anything as of yet but prays that she and her family will soon be next in line.
"Without help I do not think we will survive this," she says adding that the worst thing is to see her children suffer.
How we save lives in Dollow
The Danish Refugee Council is one of the largest humanitarian organizations working in Somalia. We bring water to drought-affected communities, help distribute food and set up toilets in the many new IDP camps, which have sprung up as a consequence of the drought. This way we seek to minimize the risk of infectious diseases. In the area around Dollow in the southern part of the country, we have already helped more than 25,000 people. In the coming months we will significantly increase our efforts in order to save more lives.
In our work with providing help and assistance, we always have a long-term focus to ensure that the affected communities are strengthened against future disasters.
Helping across borders
The UN warns that the on-going growing drought can develop into the biggest humanitarian disaster since its establishment in 1945. Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria have been described as 'the four famines’, but the extensive drought does not know of borders. Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of Uganda are also severely affected. The extensive drought leaves as many as 20 million people at risk which makes rapid assistance and access to food and water a matter of life and death.
The Danish Refugee Council is present in all of the affected countries and work across borders to help as many people as possible.