Desperate for rain

Desperate for rain

Desperate for rain

Updated 2 February 2016, 8:55 AEDT

Somalia and Ethiopia are facing a malnutrition crisis amid the worst drought seen since the famine of "biblical proportions" in the mid-1980s.

Somalia and Ethiopia are in the grip of a drought not seen since the famine of "biblical proportions" in the mid-1980s. Pastoralists in the Horn of Africa are being forced to change their lives because they cannot stay on the land. That has led to a malnutrition crisis and people have been starving to death.

Introduction

The Somaliland village of Abdikadir is in a spectacular location.

Rugged yellowy and rocky mountains tower above it on one side, and on the other plains stretch away into the distance.

If it were easy to get here, and relatively safe to travel, tourists would come to see the last of the sunlight ablaze on the face of the mountains.

The yellow rocks reflect the western sun and it is a wall of colour over the village. The contrast with the bright colours adorning the residents is striking.

The beauty is perhaps enriched by the lack of greenery, but the people are all the poorer because of it.

Across east Africa close to 20 million people will need food aid this year. It is a similar number further south, where Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are the worst affected.

In some parts of Somalia and Ethiopia there has not been decent rains for three years and Abdikadir in Somaliland — an autonomous region in northern Somalia not recognised by the UN — is one of the worst-affected areas.

As village chief Ahmed Dahir Alale explained his people's plight his brow seemed to get heavier and somehow sadder.

"In and around this village people live in the mountains and because of the drought we bury at least two people every week," he said.

"Mostly they are women who are pregnant or breastfeeding."

The El Nino weather pattern has brought unprecedented, diverse hardships.

In some areas there has been flooding. In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, short rains have been lingering for months. It has been far wetter than it was during the long rains.

Many believe the drought in the Horn of Africa is now worse than the drought of the mid-1980s during which hundreds of thousands of people died because they did not have anything to eat.

The charity Save the Children has recently increased the classification of the disaster's seriousness to its highest level.

It is now considered to be as serious as the war and humanitarian disaster in Syria.

Save the Children has a permanent presence in Hargeisa and Boroma in Somaliland, allowing it to send mobile health clinics to the worst-affected areas.

Children are screened for malnourishment. They are measured and weighed, and the circumference of their upper arm is recorded.

One young girl wearing a bright red head scarf was brought by her mother to a clinic, where the work is done out of the back of a four-wheel-drive beside a dusty road.

Deeqsan Waberi was four years old and 11 kilograms, the weight of a healthy two-year-old.

"We cannot get any help," her mother Kafiya Adan Waberi said.

"We are not close to the city. We have walked a long distance to get any kind of help and it is so little."

The drought has robbed them of any chance to generate an income.

"We are pastoralists," she said.

"When there is drought we cannot sell or milk our livestock."

As the ABC drove through dusty landscapes and through mountain passes, we came to a place where dry riverbeds are used as roads.

In the middle of the road-come-river was a group of people and animals, congregated with bright yellow and blue plastic containers.

The water table was high and there was a hand dug well.

A man stood up to his chest in the earth. He would bend to collect the water and hand it off for people to take their fill.

Animals were watered in a shallow dish. They had to be restrained to wait their turn.

Donkeys and camels carry the precious cargo for tens of kilometres back to the villages and small settlements.

Fadumo Mumin Hassan was filling containers to take home. Before walking away she looked up at the endless blue sky.

"If it continues this dry," she said, "the animals will die and then we will die too."

Save the Children's east Africa drought appeal is raising money to help communities in drought-hit areas of Somaliland, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The UNHCR is also seeking to aid refugees suffering from malnutrition in Ethiopian camps.

Credits

  • Reporter: Africa correspondent Martin Cuddihy
  • Producer: Dingani Masuku

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