Climate shock

Wafaa Saeed Abdelatef
Thursday, Jun 08, 2023

When tiny Samia was brought to the UNICEF-supported medical centre in the northeastern port city of Bossaso in Somalia, her skin was pulled tight over her emaciated rib cage. The infant was so weak from fever and diarrhoea that her eyes remained half closed and she could hardly move her legs and arms. Desperate for help, her mother had spent two days on the road, traveling 350km (220 miles) to get her child proper medical attention. “Her cries were uncontrollable,” says the mother, Saido Mohamed, 31. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go for help.” After Samia was examined at the clinic, it was determined that she had severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Doctors attached a drip to her left arm to replace lost fluids and monitored her closely for two weeks.

Samia eventually recovered, but hundreds of thousands of children across Somalia are suffering just like her. The Horn of Africa has recently experienced its worst drought in decades. With five failed rainy seasons in a row severely impacting agricultural production, the United Nations estimates that at least 43.3 million people across the region require life-sustaining assistance, including 8.25 million in Somalia. Thankfully, the current rainy season (April – June 2023) is faring better than expected and a famine appears to have been narrowly avoided by sustained humanitarian assistance and declining food prices. But the crisis is far from over. As many as 1.8 million Somali children under the age of five could still face acute malnutrition through 2023, with an estimated 477,700 needing treatment for severe wasting.

Somalia’s story is not just one of prolonged droughts, either. Climate change has locked the country in a spiral of droughts and floods, with recent rains flooding the lowlands and displacing more than 200,000 people. Although initially slow to respond to the threat of famine, the international community eventually came to Somalia’s aid. Aid organisations stepped up their efforts and famine was averted. However, while the threat of famine and severe malnutrition still looms on the horizon, with so much suffering in global headlines, the world’s attention has already moved away from Somalia and the region.

The war in Ukraine and three years of COVID-19 have understandably left people numb to bad news and painful statistics. But now is not the time for the international community to switch off. The fact remains that Somalia and other countries in this region are just one failed rainy season away from another human catastrophe. The impact of recurring climatic shocks, widespread food insecurity, and reduced livelihood potential is being compounded by persistent conflict and community displacements. If we are to save more children like Samia, we must come together and continue supporting the lifesaving response in the Horn of Africa.

Excerpted: ‘In Somalia, the rains have come but the

crisis is far from over’. Courtesy: