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As hunger spreads in Somalia, babies start to die

Amina Hassan Aden sits with her children Yonis Saleban, 1, Abdulahi Saleban, 3, and Isnino Saleban, 9, inside their makeshift shelter at the Kaxareey camp for the internally displaced people in Dollow, Gedo region of Somalia May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Hacked-off thorn branches encircle two mounds of earth heaped over the tiny bodies of Halima Hassan Abdullahi’s twin granddaughters. Babies Ebla and Abdia lived only a day.

Weakened by hunger, their mother gave birth to the twins a month early, eight weeks after their exhausted family walked into a camp for displaced families in the Somali town of Dollow.

“She is malnourished and her two babies died of hunger,” Abdullahi said at the Kaxareey camp which sprang up in January and now houses 13,000 people.

They are among more than 6 million Somalis who need aid to survive.

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After rains failed for four consecutive seasons, the worst drought in 40 years has shrivelled their beans and maize and dotted scrubland with the corpses of their goats and donkeys.

With global focus on Ukraine, aid agencies and the United Nations are desperate to attract attention to a calamity they say is shaping up to be comparable to Somalia’s 2011 famine. More than a quarter of a million people died then, mostly children under five.

There is only enough cash for about half the people in the Kaxareey camp. Abdullahi’s family is not one of the lucky ones.

She has not seen anything like it since the early 1990s, when a famine helped trigger a disastrous U.S. military intervention in Somalia that ended notoriously with the shooting down of a Black Hawk helicopter. Her family had never had to leave their land before, she said.

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On good days, Abdullahi can support the 13 members of her family by washing clothes in town, earning about $1.50. That enables everyone to have a single handful of maize porridge.

But it is not enough. Her daughter-in-law needs medicine for typhoid that costs ten times Abdullahi’s daily wages. The girl lies listlessly on a blanket, a skinny baby fretting at her breast. A high-heeled red shoe with a diamante clasp lies in the dirt nearby, one of the few possessions she carried from their sunblasted home. Now she is too weak to even say her name.

“Abdiya,” Abdullahi says quietly, trying to rouse her.

The girl does not look up.

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