August 15, 2011
“The other day I met some parents and they told me they left some of their children behind on the road
because they could no longer walk. When I asked why they did this, they told me they wanted to save at
least some of their family members, because if they had to wait, then all of them would have starved and
died together.” – Mohamed Yussuf Hassan, United Nations Refugee Agency interpreter (BBC NEWS)
There are 50 miles between the Somali border and Dadaab, Kenya, home of the largest refugee camp in the world. Thousands of Somalians have recently sought refuge in Dadaab – many traveling on foot for weeks – because their country has run out of food.
In late July, the United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia, along with four other countries that are all in the Horn of Africa. Several seasons of drought have wiped out crops, livestock, and water; affecting over 11.6 million people.
Those who dare to make the 50 mile journey from the border to Dadaab (about the distance between Los Angeles and Riverside, CA) often have no other choice than to leave all of their possessions behind; even those that are irreplaceable. Exhausted parents, forced to rest on the side of the road, have watched their children race ahead to camp, not knowing if they would ever see them again. News footage shows corpses scattered on roads alongside clothes, blankets, shoes and people.
Women, the elderly, and children face the most danger. UNICEF has reported that the infant death rate in some parts of southern Somalia has reached 6 deaths per day, and 6 out of every 10,000 people will die each day from hunger.
Those that make it to aid must take shelter in tents outside of camps that are over capacity. Dudaab, built for only 90,000, is currently inundated with over 400,000 people.
Despite appeals to the global community, the U.N. is almost $250 million short of the $535 million they requested last year for assistance. And Al-Shabaab, a militant group with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, is attempting to block aid, exacerbating the effects of a dry season which isn’t expected to end until October. By this time, when the rain hopefully falls and the famine has ended, an estimated 11 million people could already be dead.
Our impending domestic financial crisis has undoubtedly pushed the Somali story off the front pages of American newspapers. Cuts to social programs at home may cause some to be less concerned with starvation abroad, but if people took one glance at the tragic scenes coming out of Somalia, they might understand that their plight shouldn't be ignored.
Organizations like the World Food Programme and Doctors Without Borders are now accepting donations. Both orgs have low overhead costs so more of your money will go directly to those in need. The WFP even offers a short quiz, promising that a meal will be donated to a child in need every time a quiz is completed.
It’s been nearly 10 years since famine last hit Somalia, claiming millions of lives. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. More ways to help can be found here.