Five years since the famine, Somali children still stalked by menace of hunger

Updated: 2015-12-22 17:00


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Five years since the famine, Somali children still stalked by menace of hunger

Barlin, 34 and Sahal, 11 months, at a UNICEF-supported outpatient therapeutic feeding center in Baidoa, Bay region, southern Somalia. Sahal had suffered from malnutrition and also vomiting and diarrhoea for a long time. He is getting better after taking RUTF. [Photo/UNICEF]

"My husband is a casual laborer; he goes around collecting firewood. He is not working at the moment," said Maqami, 19, one of the mothers I met at the center. In the arms was her 11-month-old baby Ridwan, who had suffered for some time from malnutrition and also a high fever and diarrhoea, and was referred here to continue his treatment after being discharged from the hospital. Ridwan was not feeling well that day. He let out weak cries every so often, like little pleas for attention from his young mother.

"The father of my children became disabled a couple of years ago, so he cannot work," said another mother, Barlin Ali, 34, who came with one of her nine children. "He stays at home all day."

Unemployment seems to be a big problem for these families. Yet they are still not the worst off. Even more vulnerable and disenfranchised are the internally displaced persons (IDPs). In the two IDP camps I visited, almost no men had jobs. It is often the women who support the household by washing clothes for better-off families in the town, or looking for firewood to sell outside the camp - exposing them to the danger of sexual violence.

"Most of us come from the countryside, so we are not used to this kind of camp life," said Hawa Abukar Waladi, a Community Health Worker (CHW) in Salamey Idale IDP camp. Everywhere you look there are rag- and sheet-covered huts sprawling in every direction. Piles of waste are scattered across the dusty landscape. Children walk around, with no shoes, and many without pants.

"Sanitation and hygiene is a big problem here. Many children suffer from malnutrition, diarrhoea, and many pregnant mothers have anaemia," said Hawa.