Somalia Drought 'One of the Largest Humanitarian Crises in Decades'

Refugees are fleeing to Kenya and Ethiopia by foot in search of food.

ByABC News
July 16, 2011, 3:59 PM

July 16, 2011 — -- Tens of thousands of people are fleeing drought and famine in Somalia in search of food and water in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The crisis has been brought on by a deadly combination of severe drought, with no rain in the region for two years, a huge spike in food prices and a brutal civil war in Somalia, where it is too dangerous for aid workers to operate.

Somalians are walking as far as 50 miles to reach the Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. The trek can take weeks through punishing terrain, which is desolate except for the carcasses that litter the land.

Click Here to Find Out How You Can Help the Refugees of the Drought in Somalia.

A mother of six was forced to decide today whether to leave behind her daughter, who is simply too sick to travel, in order to save the rest of her family. Suffering from malnutrition, her daughter isn't strong enough to continue with their 30-day, 50-mile journey from Somalia into neighboring Kenya.

The mother, who was so traumatized that she couldn't continue describing her ordeal or even give her name, had to leave her child by the side of the road to die.

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Tamima Mohammed, who has travelled for 35 days with her seven children to get to Dadaab, is among the other refugees. Mohammed lies listless, covered in chicken pox, with no help in sight. She is still waiting to see a doctor. Her children are visibly malnourished, but Mohammed's sack of grains is empty. She said she'll have to beg her neighbors for something to eat.

Even after enduring these difficult circumstances, leaving behind everything they own and arriving with only the clothes on their backs, many refugees say they are happier in the camps because at least they can find some food and rations to get by.

Mokhtar, his wife Nashoy and their six children arrived at the Dadaab refugee camp after travelling by foot for 30 days. They now live in a makeshift tent that they built with their bare hands out of twigs they had found nearby and clasped together with ragged pieces of cloth. They are some of the lucky ones. Mokhtar said that at least he and his family are still alive and safe now.

Almost 400,000 Somalis now call the Dadaab complex home, and more than 1,300 arrive every day.

''The people that are arriving are absolutely desperate. They haven't eaten for weeks, they've been travelling for a long, long time in very difficult situations,'' said Andrew Wander of Save the Children.

''Unless we can get humanitarian aid into this part of the world, unless we can scale up our operations to meet the growing need, this crisis could turn into a catastrophe and that's what we've got to stop," Wander said.

Melissa Fleming, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman, agreed.

''The drought, compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country, is turning one of the world's worst humanitarian crises into a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions," Fleming said.

The United States has pledged $5 million to aid the refugees in Somalia in addition to the $63 million in the budget, according to The Associated Press.

"A great nation can do more than one thing at the same time and that is what we the United States will continue to do even in the context of the financial challenges that we are facing," said Reuben E. Brigety, who is responsible for State Department assistance to refugees and conflict victims in Africa, according to the AP.