GALKAIYO Somalia: “Even the Camels Are Dying”.


Halkaan ka akhri

GALKAIYO, Somalia — Ahmed Mahamoud Hassan has probably one of the worst jobs on the planet: drought chairman of the  Galmudug region of Somalia, one of the hottest, driest, poorest patches of one of the world’s most utterly failed states. His job is to feed people in a place where there is no food. Obviously, it isn’t easy.

I met Mr. Ahmed last week, during a United Nations trip to Somalia to assess how bad the drought situation really is (short answer: really bad).

We walked through a camp for displaced people, absorbing the human wreckage around us. There were stick-skinny children with horrible, rattling coughs that sounded like an old Chevy Nova trying to start up on a cold morning.

Emaciated goats snacked on piles of garbage, filling their stretched bellies with nothing more nutritious than black plastic bags. Families of 10 packed into sweltering lean-tos made from sticks and cloth, many of them fleeing either war or drought, Somalia’s twin killers that have sent more than 20 percent of the country’s population on the run.

“This is the fourth year of drought,” Mr. Ahmed told me. “Instead of recovering our livestock, we keep losing them. We’re surviving purely due to food aid. If there are any more delays with the aid, it’ll be starvation for sure.”

In villages all around Galkaiyo, we saw stacks of bleached-out animal bones. People here are pastoralists, and when all the livestock die, the pastoralists are not far behind. Some decide to trudge to the nearest town and wait for the next sack of donated grain.

But there is a cost to this, too. Pastoralists are proud people used to surviving in an incredibly harsh environment. Now they are beggars. Once all their animals are gone, and all their brothers’ and friends’ animals are gone, too, it is hard to rebuild that nomadic life of roaming the hinterlands in search of the green grass, a harsh but totally free existence that seems almost beyond time.

Now, even the camels are dying, which really frightens people, because camels can plod along for days on just a sip of water. They are the last animals to keel over in the desert and disappear into the sands. This is basically a picture of the whole middle belt of Somalia and much of East Africa.

Oxfam just the other day  said that 23 million people were at risk of starving because of drought. In some areas, it hasn’t a rained a drop in years. In northern Kenya, people are living off wild, chalky fruits that their stomachs can barely break down. Many can’t make it.

I just found out that the very thin, older woman who was  pictured on the front page of The New York Times on Sept. 8, being helped to a drink of water, died of hunger a few days after that photograph was taken because she was too weak to eat.

True, droughts are cyclical, and various studies suggest that  Africa has experienced parched epochs before. But many people here these days believe the extreme dryness may be evidence of climate change and leaders in far-from-industrialized Africa, which produces just a fraction of the world’s CO2, are increasingly saying that  their countries are paying a high price for greenhouse gases that are raising global temperatures worldwide.

“This is the new norm,” said Nicholas Wasunna, a  World Vision aid official in Kenya. “We’re going to be see more of these periods of intense droughts followed by intense rain,” which is the situation predicted for East Africa this year.

He added, “It’s desperate.”

Source: New York Times

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