In September 2011, two months after famine was officially declared in the Horn of Africa by the United Nations, Freelance journalist Abdi Aziiz Abdi Nur was in the southern region of Somalia—the hardest-hit area. He reports on what he experienced then, and how now—almost a year later— the situation has changed. He also meets up with five-year-old Abdi again, who was being treated for severe malnutrition when Nur first met him last year.
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One year ago, a humanitarian crisis was taking place in the Horn of Africa. Two million children were at the risk of dying of starvation, and on July 20, 2011 the United Nations declared famine in parts of Somalia. Thanks to the generous support from donors and sponsors, 1 million children have been treated for malnutrition in the region.
On this anniversary we wanted to go beyond just the numbers and get a more personal perspective on the situation. So I sat down with Lisa Szarkowski, Vice President of Public Advocacy and Strategic Communications for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, who had been in the region during the crisis. Lisa told me some very moving stories of the
on-ground situation and the work that UNICEF does.
With two million children at risk of dying from malnutrition, disease and dehydration in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other Horn of Africa countries from the worst drought in 60 years, many of us struggle with how to make a difference in such a massive crisis. We can wrap our arms around a donation to provide shelter, food or medicine for one child, but the enormity of this current situation often results in no one doing anything. We become overwhelmed.
In a disaster as severe for children as the one in the Horn of Africa, we need all hands on deck to help provide the resources needed to save lives – and that includes governments as well as individuals.
Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ), a long-time UNICEF champion, is trying to get his Congressional colleagues to take notice. He introduced House Resolution 361, calling on the United States to continue its support to the people of the Horn of Africa during this time of drought and famine. Reflecting the compassion and generosity of Americans, the United States Government has been a major donor of emergency assistance to the region, including funding for UNICEF’s response. Unfortunately, as the combination of continued drought, rising food prices, and ongoing conflict pushes the region toward a humanitarian catastrophe, our government will need to join its citizens in stepping up to do more to prevent millions of deaths.
UNICEF’s Christopher Tidey is in Dadaab Camp in Kenya. Christopher sent us this note this morning providing a firsthand account of the situation threatening the survival of 2.23 million children in the Horn of Africa.
The road to Dadaab is bone dry, 62 miles of sand and scrub. The signs of the drought are everywhere–dead animals, dried up vegetation. I cannot imagine how children could possibly make this journey on foot, particularly those who are malnourished. UNICEF has been present in Dadaab and the host communities for years, but we are ramping up our response to meet the increased needs of the influx of refugees.
At a press conference this morning, Mark Bowden, a UN humanitarian coordinator, said that famine conditions now exist in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia. He warned: “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks… Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas.”