Deadly Somalian Drought and Famine Force Families to Take a Dangerous Journey

The crisis forces tens of thousands of refugee families on a deadly journey.

ByLama Hasan, Julie Na and Olivia Katrandjian
July 18, 2011, 5:06 PM

July 18, 2011 -- The drought and famine in Somalia continue to leave families displaced and in desperate search for food and water. Tens of thousands of Somalis are fleeing the crisis seeking refuge at camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

For Abdullah Jareh and his wife the search for life turned deadly. They left Somalia 25 days ago on foot with their mother and four children for Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world.

Somalis are walking as far as 50 miles to reach camps like Dadaab, a trek that could last weeks through the desolate terrain. It took Jareh and his family 25 grueling days under the harsh heat, winds and formidable terrain with little to eat or drink.

On their way, Jareh's wife died from gajoo— a local word for hunger. Throughout the demanding trek, the mother gave up her small portions of food to her four children. But despite the mother's deadly sacrifice, the doctor at the Dadaab refugee camp rushed the youngest son Aden to a makeshift hospital for malnourishment.

Abdullah Jareh says he cannot bear to tell his children they will not see their mother again. They are too young, he says, to understand how her life was taken so quickly, so soon.

Stories of heartbreak and pain are not unique to Abdullah Jareh and his family who are among tens of thousands of victims of the drought and famine in Somalia. Almost 400,000 Somalis now call the Dadaab complex home and more than 1,300 arrive every day. While the conditions at the refugee camps are difficult as well, many refugees say they are happier in the camps because at least they can find some food and rations to get by.

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.

And each day, the situation is spiraling downward. Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stressed, "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.

''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," said Andrew Wander of Save the Children.

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.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events