SOM170730DA003MOGADISHU, Somalia – To see the effects of a fight against extremists, climate change and the war in Ukraine all come together, one only has to meet Abdi Khadar, who sells camel milk tea, or shah, to customers sitting outside in plastic chairs in the sprawling metropolis of Mogadishu.

Khadar, 48, fled from his hometown of Baidoa in southwestern Somalia last month to venture in search of any source of income to feed the family he left behind at Garas Goof camp in Baidoa, one of the regions hardest hit by the drought that is engulfing the Horn of Africa which includes this East African nation of almost 16 million.

Two of his nine children have already died of starvation.
"I had to escape or lose my entire family to hunger," he told me. "When I arrived here, I started selling tea to people, and the money I earn, I send to my family – to save them."
Khadar's family members are among more than 7.1 million people – nearly half of Somalia's population – in danger of starvation.
The situation is familiar to UN officials and aid workers who have been begging for help. They know that parts of the Horn of Africa are headed toward famine by the end of the year.
"Famine is at the door, and today we are receiving a final warning," Martin Griffiths, under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations, warned on Sept. 5 after the end of his five-day visit to drought-stricken Somalia.
"I have been shocked to my core these past few days by the level of pain and suffering we see so many Somalis enduring," he added. "In camps for the displaced people, we saw extreme hunger. In the hospital in Baidoa, we had the unenviable privilege of seeing children so malnourished that they could barely speak."
Across this region, millions of adults have lost so much weight that they are almost skeletal. Children, meanwhile, are so weak, they have trouble moving.
The situation is a result of the most severe drought in 40 years, the war in Ukraine, and the instability in the country. It's the second time in a decade that Somalia is on the brink of famine.
In 2011, more than 250,000 people in Somalia – half of whom were children – died in a famine that followed three consecutive seasons without adequate rainfall, according to data from the UN.
This time, inflation is putting food out of reach of many that were able to afford it a decade ago. That's partly because of the war in Ukraine, some 3,000 miles away.
Ukraine and Russia have been the leading exporters of wheat, grains, cooking oil, and fertilizers to Somalia for decades. However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted imports of these commodities and also crude oil from Russia, leading to rising fuel, food production, and transportation costs in the country.
"Food prices are soaring daily because our livestock has died, and there has been a poor harvest due to prolonged drought," said Yusuf Osman, who advises international organizations about the security situation, from his base in Mogadishu.
"We depend on wheat which comes from Ukraine and Russia, and the war is really affecting us negatively," he said. "People are dying now because there is no food to eat, and those who can walk are heading to refugee camps to get some meals. But we are losing a lot of people."
Meanwhile, there is growing anger at the UN for its failure to declare a famine, a declaration that analysts and humanitarian groups say is the only way to avert more deaths from hunger. But the UN is waiting because the situation in the country hasn't quite reached the technical definition of famine, said Griffiths.
In 2004, the United Nations, in conjunction with national governments, defined famine under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system.
The IPC system declares a famine when at least 20 percent of households in a given area face an extreme lack of food and if 30 percent of children in those areas suffer from acute malnutrition. Precisely, it means when two adults or four children out of every 10,000 die daily from starvation in a region.
The United Nations says some parts of the country are on track to reach these levels between October and December, with 1.5 million children facing acute malnutrition by October.
Many, though, say by then it will be too late.
Mayow Mohammed, who has previously worked with Save the Children International in Somalia, said the numbers are not always accurate. The situation, she added, is dire.
"This year, we have already lost many people without help from the international community because the situation has not been declared a famine," said Mohammed. "The United Nations should not sit and watch as the people of this country die. I believe they don't have accurate data – the situation is a pure famine."
Aid officials say they have seen this exact situation before.
In 1992, famine killed an estimated 220,000 people. In 2011, more than 250,000 people died. Analysts said in both of those cases, thousands of people died before the United Nations declared famine.
In 2011, for example, the official declaration of famine was made in July, though the UN estimates it began in October 2010 and ended in April 2012.
Still, Mohammed said the previous declarations even if they came late helped the country to recover from famine. In 2011, for example, when United Nations declared famine in Somalia, agencies and donor countries quickly came in and funded aid programs, preventing more deaths.
Locals, meanwhile, told me that the politics of famine are ridiculous in the face of mass starvation.
"Let's not wait for (more) people to die before declaring a famine," said Mohammed. "The country lost a lot of people in previous situations like this when we were waiting for the United Nations to declare famine in order to save people. We have no time remaining now."
And those hit hard like Khadar say they feel abandoned.
"It seems like everyone hates Somalia," he said. "They want us to die first before they declare a famine. If this were happening in another country international community would quickly help."

Photo: July 30, 2017 - Mogadishu, Somalia - Somali children eat lunch outside their classroom. Somali students attend a class session.
Credit: Doreen Ajiambo/ ARA Network Inc.

Story/ photo published date: 09/28/2022

A version of this story was published in the Boston Globe.