South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia have been hit by a drought since October of 2016, and the effects are worsening with each passing day. Somalia is perhaps the most affected, as this is the third drought that has hit the East African country in the past 25 years, making recovery harder and harder with each passing hit. The case this time has become so severe that it has lead to famine threats and the last time the region was touched by famine, almost six years ago, it took more than 250,000 people with it. This time around, there are more than 20 million lives at risk. The increased number is the result of the ongoing war in the region that has only exacerbated the famine as resources are running out faster. The most alarming fact about this situation is the rate at which cholera has been spreading around the country due to the lack of clean water.
Cholera is a disease caused by the spread of the vibrio cholerae bacterium, which induces a diarrheal illness. Cholera is acquired through the consumption of the bacterium through contaminated foods and water. The disease is particularly harder to treat in this region as it provokes acute diarrhea which in turn causes severe dehydration, and with no fresh water in the vicinity, people are forced to quench their thirsts with contaminated waters, only furthering the track of the illness.
Somalia’s case is more severe than before because three-quarters of the nation’s crops and livestock have been depleted, resulting in the extreme malnutrition of thousands of children. What many families have been doing to survive is forcibly handing their young daughters into marriage with much older men in exchange for dowry money for mere sustenance, which is a truly heartbreaking resort. At least 20 percent of households are tackling acute dietary shortages, and with each passing day, two out of every 10,000 people pass from starvation.
In an interview, Winnie Byanyima, an executive director of Oxfam International, she gave NPR’s Robert Siegel some insight on the situation of the famine. She stated “ … I met people who have fled their homes, who have lost everything and who are now living in camps. Most of them are not allowed to venture even a little bit outside the towns that they are in because when they step out to find food or sell something they get attacked, raped, assaulted. And they are frustrated that although they are in a safe town, they are unable to meet the needs of their families. So aid is coming in but not fast enough.” To combat the food scarcity, the United Nations has asked for $4.4 billion in aid but has only received $984 million, a mere fraction of the needs. There is an overall lack of funding as most countries have a “me first” attitude. But it’s time that nations realized that Somalia is undergoing a grave life or death situation where the slightest aid can make the biggest difference. There is an overall lack of international funding and once received, it’s arduous to deliver the resources to these countries. Northeast Nigeria is especially impossible to aid due to the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has a major presence in the area.
Not all hope is lost though. The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) president, Sheikh Khalifa, launched a donation charity just last week, granting Somalia Dh500 million (equivalent to a little more than $136 million). The campaign also raised Dh165 million (almost $55 million) through a countrywide telethon last Friday alone. The Emirates Red Crescent Society, the UAE’s biggest volunteer humanitarian organization, has also been relentlessly assisting the Somalians, though with great efforts and difficulty. This past Thursday an aid convoy came under attack in Mogadishu, the capital and most populous city of the country. The team was deployed there to scout and ascertain the needs of the residents along with the mission to deliver 10,000 food parcels. The food parcels are handed over in a most-needed manner. First preferences are usually given to the most vulnerable — particularly children, elders and expecting mothers. The parcels contain flour, rice, sugar, some water and cooking oils and usually last up to six weeks. Currently, there are 200,000 parcels for children and another 50,000 for families, making their way to the nation over a ship. Fortunately, the bomb attack did not result in any casualties, only empowering spirits of those on the aiding mission.
Internationally, the UAE’s example should be followed as it would take a lot of efforts to save and restore the once thriving nation. It’s important to stay optimistic as many affected families are doing. Completely poor but ordinary families are welcoming those fleeing and in need into their homes. The population itself is determined to fight and survive — they only need some assistance.
Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Mondays.
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