A deadly explosion ripped through the Somali capital, Mogadishu. In the hours following the explosion, the death toll stood at 20. However, the figure had jumped to a devastating 276. With 300 others injured and many victims burned beyond recognition, authorities termed the explosion the “deadliest attack ever” to hit war-torn Somalia. Hundreds of people, chanting anti-violence slogans and wearing red or white bandanas around their heads in a show of grief, took to the streets of Mogadishu to condemn the deadly attack that has shocked Somalians. Rescue operations continued with rescuers working through the night to try to pull bodies from the rubble after the truck bomb exploded outside of the Safari Hotel on a busy road junction, levelling buildings and leaving many vehicles in flames.
When a double truck bombing shattered the night in Mogadishu, rescue workers began the grim search for survivors that has become all too common. They picked through burned-out cars and hunted as best they could in a collapsed hotel. But it was only on Sunday, as emergency workers pulled body after body from the rubble of a nearly leveled downtown street, that the magnitude of the latest attack came into focus. The numbers of dead surged from 20 on Saturday night to more than 270 and counting, according to government officials. More than 300 people were injured. “This is the deadliest incident I ever remember” since the 1990s, when the government collapsed, a shaken Senator Abshir Ahmed said in a Facebook posting.
The UN chief has urged international support to alleviate Somalia’s worsening hunger crisis during an emergency visit to the country. Antonio Guterres issued the appeal on Tuesday after witnessing the suffering of malnourished Somalis and cholera victims during his first field trip since becoming the UN chief. He said the hunger crisis requires a massive response as six million people, or almost half of the population of the Horn of Africa country, need assistance. “Every single person we have seen is a personal story of tremendous suffering. There is no way to describe it,” Guterres said after seeing skeletal men, women and children in a cholera ward in Baidoa, 243km northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.
A week after his inauguration, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared a state of disaster in his drought-stricken country of Somalia, where the lives of 6.2 million people are now at risk. Even as the ongoing war against al-Shabab continues and African Union forces (AMISOM) fight to assist the fragile government, the looming famine has become a priority. The drought will be a trial for all those involved in Somalia’s struggles. It will test the international community’s response, the government’s ability to assist, and the strength of security provided by the African Union forces.
In the far north of Somalia, three years with little rain has had increasingly disastrous effects for a population reliant on the land. The parched earth has failed to produce food for the camels and goats that the people depend on for their income, meat, and milk for their children. Local leaders in Puntland estimate the pastoralists have already lost 65 percent of their animals. While the men accompany the remaining livestock in the hunt for grazing land, the women and children are migrating towards towns on main roads in search of alternative sources of food. Displaced people have been setting up tents along the roads in hope of receiving aid from passing vehicles. It’s there the women, children, and elderly wait for assistance in the heat and dust. In the coming months, if the word famine is used to describe the crisis in Somalia, it will mean that help never came.
Four-year-old Safia Adan lies in Baidoa Regional Hospital in southern Somalia with a tube through her nose. She is suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. At her side her worried grandmother looks up to explain that Safia first became sick after drinking water from the local well. “The water had changed colour but we still drank it,” says her grandmother. “We stopped after Safia became sick. We brought her to the city because we knew you get could get good treatment here.” They were lucky – seven people from their village are now confirmed dead and the hospital has seen a surge in children suffering from water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. They are the latest victims of the on-going drought ravaging Somalia that has left more than six million people, half the country’s population, facing food shortages and has seen water supplies become infected with bacteria rendering them undrinkable.
Last week the United Nations warned that a severe famine in Somalia was a distinct possibility and noted that if the rains failed again and urgent international action was not taken the country could see a repeat of the famine of 2011, which killed more than a quarter of a million people. “In the worst affected areas inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock,” the UN said in a statement released last week. “Communities are being forced to sell their assets and borrow food and money to survive.” Aid agencies are particularly concerned that the drought is exacerbating the country’s on-going humanitarian crisis – 365,000 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished and 71,000 of those children are in need of urgent life-saving assistance. “This time last year we had far fewer cases but due to the drought people will use any kind of water,” says Dr Abdullah Yusuf, medical coordinator for the Baidoa Regional Hospital.
More than 58,000 children in drought-hit Somalia will starve to death if they do not receive urgent support, the United Nations has warned. The situation in the country, where dry conditions are exacerbated by an exceptionally strong El Nino weather pattern, is “alarming and could get worse”, the UN said on Monday. It added that an estimated 4.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and some 950,000 people “struggle every day to meet their food needs”. “The level of malnutrition, especially among children, is of serious concern, with nearly 305,000 children under the age of five years acutely malnourished,” said Peter de Clercq, the UN aid chief for Somalia. “We estimate that 58,300 children face death if they are not treated,” he added
The warnings, based on the latest data collected by the UN, come four years after intense drought and war sparked a famine killing more than 250,000 people. Northern Somali areas, including self-declared independent Somaliland along the Gulf of Aden and semi-autonomous Puntland, are especially hard-hit. “We are deeply concerned … with severe drought conditions intensifying in Puntland and Somaliland, many more people risk relapsing into crisis,” the UN said, calling for $885m in aid.
The warning comes as neighbouring Ethiopia struggles to combat its worst drought for 30 years. At least 10.2 million people need food aid in Ethiopia, a figure the UN has warned could double within months, leaving a fifth of the population to go hungry.
Vast regions of Somaliland, the autonomous territory that declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but has not been internationally recognised, are enduring one of their harshest droughts in two decades. As the wet seasons have grown increasingly erratic and the rainfall more sporadic over recent years, thousands of herding families across the remote coastal Awdal and Galbeed territories have been pushed into crisis.
These are communities for whom livestock provide the only source of income, but the parched earth means that they are no longer able to feed and hydrate their animals. As a result, their herds are starving to death. The onset of powerful El Nino weather patterns in November have only exacerbated the current drought. And the forecast for December predicts even more devastation.
Aid groups, including the UN’s humanitarian coordination unit (UNOCHA), warn that the number of people in food security crises across the three territories of greater Somalia – Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia – has increased by 17 percent to around 855,000 people over the past six months. As of October, the international humanitarian response plan for the whole of Somalia, including Somaliland, is only 36 percent funded.
Refugees gather to watch the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres at the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The camp currently houses some 350,000 people and for more than 20 years has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled their homeland wracked by conflicts. Kenya’s government has asked UNHCR to close the camp after an attack on Kenya’s Garissa University by Somalia-based al-Shabab gunmen in April, whom are suspected to have planned and launched their attack from the camp.