Children face famine in the Horn of Africa
Somaliland – 14 December 2018

Children face famine in the Horn of Africa

For four terrible years children and families in the Horn of Africa have fought for survival in a terrain left barren by a succession of droughts and floods. Crops have failed, grazing lands have been left dry and dusty and livestock have died at an alarming rate.

Farming families across Somalia, Ethiopia, Somaliland and Kenya have lost the means to produce their own food and have seen their livelihoods destroyed. The cost of food has skyrocketed, and more than 15 million people are facing severe food shortages.

Many families have been forced from their homes by the crisis and are living as refugees in their own countries - sleeping in temporary settlements and competing for insufficient jobs and natural resources.

As always in a crisis, it is the children who suffer most.

When Halimo arrived at the emergency shelter in Somaliland’s capitol city, Hargeisa, she sold the family’s last surviving goat for $10 to buy food for her six children. 

The rest of the family’s livestock were killed in the drought. Left without milk or meat to eat and trade, the family was forced to leave their home and travel to the city in the hope of finding work.

The family used to live in a traditional Somali cottage made of braided grass and large pieces of colourful fabric close to the Ethiopian border. They grazed their camels, sheep and goats over vast areas of land, moving them with the seasons. That was a year ago.

Now the family lives in a cramped shelter without water, a toilet or a place to cook. Their home is just big enough for the family's only piece of furniture, a mattress where they all sleep. The door of their little home is a curtain made of old sugar and rice bags.

The air is full of sand and dust and Halimo's two-year-old daughter Aisha coughs constantly. Every Friday, Halimo takes her children to the mosque where she prays for a better life.

"I miss our old home,” Halimo says. “It was beautiful. We built it ourselves and we owned it. I'm afraid we'll be thrown out of our shelter. My husband now earns just $50-a-month -  it's not enough for us to buy food for the whole family.”

Before we began supporting the family with food vouchers Halimo struggled to feed her children. “We didn’t eat every day and we never had more than one meal a day,” she told us.

More than five million women and children are acutely malnourished across the region, including 600,000 children under the age of five. For such young children the effects can last a lifetime, leaving them with permanent brain damage and stunting their mental and physical growth.

Desperation is tearing families apart and forcing them to make heart-breaking decisions. In Somalia, child labour is on the rise as families see no choice but to send their children away to work in the cities, and child marriage is becoming more common.

We are working to support families through this crisis, helping them rebuild their devastated farms with seeds, tools and livestock and offering them a balanced diet, healthcare and clean water. But crucially, we want to give children back their childhoods.

When children are hungry and thirsty, when they have lost their homes and even members of their family, they need a sense of normality. A safe place to play, a good meal and the chance to return to school can make all the difference in the world to a child living through crisis.

This story was taken from the winter edition of Family Matters, our bi-annual supporter magazine.