Recently, I was reading a story from one of CARE’s partners here in Somalia. The story was about a two-year-old named Ubah who had been admitted on the cusp of death to one of the local health facilities.
What was wrong? What was happening?
Ubah was starving. Her family could not afford to provide food for her, one of the most traumatizing situations any parent could ever go through.
The drought in Somalia has, according to the United Nations, already killed 43,000 people. It has also decimated the livestock of families like Ubah’s, and, since rearing livestock was the only thing Ubah’s parents knew, they couldn’t find any other work, and so they couldn’t feed their child.
But Ubah was lucky. She was at a CARE-supported health facility, and she recovered.
Not everyone here will be so lucky. According to the United Nations, there will be 500,000 more children like Ubah by July.
The situation in Somalia is clearly far from being resolved, and I have to ask why.
Is there something I should do better to help focus the world’s attention on this crisis?
Is it possible that people have gotten tired of saving lives, or fatigued by the idea of preventing another famine?
Is the world really going to sit and watch and wait for the suffering of people to be officially titled a “famine” to take action?
Thousands of families have been displaced from their homes by the current drought, and more than hundreds of thousands of livestock have been lost.
Every day, as I head to the CARE office in Garowe, these questions are on my mind. For the past two years, I have seen communities across Somalia that have lost everything and do not know where the next meal will come from. My team and I have been raising the alarm for more than a year on the impending drought, always haunted by the 2011 famine in Somalia that led to the loss of a quarter of a million lives.
When the crisis began, we were hopeful that the global community would spring into action to keep history from repeating itself.
But we were wrong.
Statement followed statement, photo followed photo, and urgent interview followed urgent interview, but two years later the Somalia response is still underfunded. And the situation is getting worse.
CARE is doing everything it can with what it has, but Somalia needs more.
I visited one of the villages hardest hit, and all I could see was suffering. Along the way, young boys were stopping cars passing by to ask for water, as all the wells had dried up. Vast swathes of land remain barren and bare, devoid of vegetation, thanks to the intense drought and the locust that invaded the region in 2021.
Every day, I hear stories of girls dropping out of school and being married off. Mothers, almost in tears, told me that they have no option, they can no longer afford to pay for school fees. Faced with a choice of which child to send to school, unfortunately, the girl child stays home. I still remember the mother’s words:“The only thing we are praying for right now is rain so that we can take our girls to school and have something to eat.”
Last fall, when I was at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, I couldn’t help but wonder: are we doing the right things to support the people in Somalia whose lives have been destroyed by climate change? This is a country that has contributed the least to climate change, but it is one of the most affected. This is not justice. This is not right. As we wait for COP28 – where we’ll desperately need more than the people in power just repeating climate “blah, blah, blah” – families are losing livestock daily, and they have no access to water. And experts are predicting a sixth failed rainy season.
Why aren’t people doing more? Do we have to wait for an official “word” to save people? Famine or not, children are starving (UNICEF reports a child is admitted to a health facility for treatment of severe acute malnutrition “every single minute of every single day”), girls are dropping out of school, livelihoods are being eroded, and decades of progress in Somalia are being undone.
Before I could come to terms with civil society’s slow response, the Ukraine conflict took the world’s attention. In a few months, the Ukraine response was fully funded and millions of people around the world sprang into action, What about Somalia? Why can we not equitably share the available resources? Somalia relies on wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and the supply chain disruption led to skyrocketing prices.
Somalia deserves as much help as Ukraine, as much as anywhere.
So many unanswered questions, but one answer that I know is that I wake up every day with renewed hope as a humanitarian. I am proud of my colleagues across Somalia who give their all to support affected communities. As a communicator, I will continue to raise awareness on the Somalia situation and advocate for more resources so that we support that mother, that girl, and the family who are desperate. I hope the world will one day have the answers to the rest of these unanswered questions.
But in the meantime, I’ll ask you to join me in not waiting for official word. We should never tire of doing the good work of saving lives, and we shouldn’t look away from the crisis.
By Walter Mawere – CARE Somalia Advocacy and Communications Coordinator
Photo credit: © Saddam Mohamed / CARE International