More than twenty children have died of starvation in the past two months in one hospital in Somalia. Dr. Yahya Abdi Jarun watched their emaciated parents stumble from the driest, driest rural areas in decades. However, no humanitarian aid has arrived.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, a donor that was preparing to give half a million dollars to a Somali aid organization told its CEO Hussein Kulmi that it was redirecting the money to help the Ukrainians instead.
And now, as Somalis fleeing drought fill more than 500 camps in Baidoa city, aid workers are making “appalling” choices to help one camp and ignore 10 others, Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland told the Associated Press he was “angry and ashamed.” . His group’s Ukraine appeal was fully funded within 48 hours, but its Somalia appeal may have been a quarter funded with thousands of people dead.
The war in Ukraine suddenly pulled millions of dollars from other crises. Somalia, facing food shortages largely driven by war, may be the most vulnerable. Its aid funding is less than half of last year’s level while Western donors overwhelmingly sent more than $1.7 billion to respond to the war in Europe. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Congo and the Palestinian Territories were similarly affected.
The $2.2 billion appeal for Ukraine is about 80% funded, according to UN data, an “exceptional” level for any mid-year crisis, said Angus Urquhart, in charge of humanitarian affairs and crises at the Advisory Development Initiatives Foundation. The Smaller Appeal to Somalia is only 30% funded.
The global shift in funds and attention this year is perhaps most urgent in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia and Kenya, where some areas could be declared famine within weeks. The US Agency for International Development says regional authorities have not seen anything of this magnitude in more than 100 years. Millions of livestock died, the source of wealth and nutrition for families.
People are next.
To the shock of some exhausted Somalis who walk for days across dry landscapes to places like Mogadishu in search of help, there is often little or none.
Hawa Osman Bilal sat outside her makeshift tent carrying the clothes of her daughter Ifrah, who died like so many vulnerable Somalis after the difficult journey to seek help.
Bilal said, “She was skinny and emaciated, and she died in front of me.” The girl was buried nearby, one among a growing number of small graves.
About 100 families have arrived in the last week alone, swelling the population to 1,700 families, Fadumo Abdul Qadir Warsami, who is in charge of the crowded camp, told the AP. There is no food to give them. “The only thing we can afford is bread and black tea,” he said. “There is no aid from donors yet.”
In a nearby warehouse run by the local organization Peace and Development Action, with support from the United Nations World Food Program, stocks dwindled. “The world has turned its back on Somalia to focus on Ukraine,” said coach Chavesi Ali Ahmed.
The White House acknowledged the problem in a June 28 statement on global food security, saying that “while the entire world will continue to be affected by Russia’s actions, the most pressing needs will be in the Horn of Africa,” where Somalia gets 90% of its wheat from. Russia and Ukraine are now struggling to find supplies amid rising prices.
“We’re really trying to avoid mass deaths at this point,” Sarah Charles, assistant director of the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Humanitarian Aid, told the AP, adding that “unfortunately, the nature of these crises makes it slow and then take off very quickly.”
Nimo Hassan, director of the Federation of Somali NGOs, and several others said they believe representatives of donor countries on the ground understand the urgency, but that decision-makers in capitals like Brussels and London seem distracted by the war in Europe.
“They don’t say frankly, ‘We’re focused on Ukraine,'” Hassan said, “but you can see what they’re doing in Ukraine.” “It has to be based on need, not on a political decision, you know?”
The UN humanitarian agency said less than 30% of new arrivals to camps fleeing drought in Somalia were receiving immediate food or other aid as of April.
“Not all emergencies are created equal,” said Victor Aguayo, UNICEF Director of Nutrition and Child Development, speaking from the Somali region in Ethiopia, speaking of a “very significant increase” in the number of severely wasted children under the age of two.
“Some emergencies are suddenly drawing attention,” Aguayo said, adding that UNICEF is not receiving enough funds to contain the crisis in the Horn of Africa where 1.8 million children need urgent treatment.
The World Food Program, like UNICEF, must shift limited resources from preventing acute hunger to focusing on the severely hungry. This means that more than a quarter of a million children under the age of two in Somalia lost preventive assistance “at the height of famine prevention efforts,” said WFP spokesman, Altan Pat.
Across Somalia, where the poor humanitarian response to the 2010-2012 drought was partially responsible for the deaths of a quarter of a million people, humanitarians are watching the event with trepidation as the fifth consecutive rainy season may fail for the first time in memory.
District Commissioner Mohamed Hussein Abdi said the southern Dolo district near Ethiopia was being “overwhelmed” by new arrivals, and at least 40 people died from April through June. The number of displaced people now outnumbers the population.
At maternal and child health centers in Somalia’s northern Puntland region, nearly every patient was severely malnourished, said Justus Leko, a food security advisor at the charity CARE.
“We can see places where there is not even a drop of water,” said Ahmed Nasir, deputy director of Save Somali Women and Children, speaking to the AP from the field. “If those people in the decision-making offices could see what we’re seeing now, they would just release the money immediately.”