a small malnourished somali child

Vulnerable children in Somalia could die waiting for help

Tobias Oloo sounds the alarm that Somalia's worst drought in four decades is threatening the lives of thousands of hungry children

One of the greatest burdens of being a humanitarian is witnessing children facing desperate levels of hunger and malnutrition, then realising the situation will worsen before enough help arrives.

This is the reality facing millions of children in southern Somalia. More than 7 million people are experiencing severe food insecurity, 213,000 people are one step away from famine-like conditions.

Largely driven by the country’s worst drought in 40 years, hunger has displaced more than a million people as of July who have no choice but to relocate. They’ve often walked for days or weeks because help can’t reach them if they stay behind.

World Vision staff standing on dried cracked ground
Severe drought is threatening people and livestock

I’ve met several of these displaced families in Doolow district, Kin, a mother of six, travelled from northern Somalia to escape drought and hunger. She’s now staying in a tiny shelter made of old clothes, plastic bags, and dry sticks with her children. Three are living with different disabilities, two of them are unable to walk.

Like most of the 18,000 others staying in this makeshift camp, she lost all of her livestock to the drought and came here with the hope of receiving assistance to survive. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult her journey must have been. Kin also had to leave loved ones behind.

Now, families like hers survive on humanitarian aid, skipping meals for days or begging neighbours for food. That’s how the families I met celebrated the Eid-al-adha holidays in early July.

Everyone in Kin’s camp relies on a single tank that is filled twice a day by a water truck provided by World Vision. This support is a lifeline. In camps that don’t have access to safe water, our frontline staff are witnessing a surge in waterborne diseases.

World Vision's water truck bringing water to thirst people
Life-giving water is delivered twice a day 

Some children won’t live to see the assistance if it doesn't arrive soon.  The United Nations has warned of nearly 400,000 Somali children below five years old likely to be severely malnourished by the end of the year.

The desperate situation risks forcing parents to pull their children from school and prepare young girls for marriage to secure a dowry, just to survive the year. We also know of displaced girls who are forced to work to earn money to support their families. Even then, they can only afford one basic meal a day.

The scale of need and suffering is beyond anything I have seen. A local official told me this drought is far worse than the one Somalia experienced in 2011, when 250,000 people died of hunger. Half were children. 

Children stand in their tent
So many thousands of vulnerable children are at risk of wasting, stunting and death.

However, amidst the despair I have not lost hope

Aid agencies like World Vision are on the ground, doing everything possible to help alleviate suffering. World Vision is reaching an estimated 459,000 people monthly (more than half of these children) with food, cash assistance, nutrition care, water provision and protection services. This helps cushion children and their families from the negative effects of the drought. But the fact is, we urgently need funding to nearly double the number of people who receive this critical support.

Hands holding grain
Preparing the only meal for the family for the day

The international community must look at the needs of children holistically and fund interventions accordingly, including psychosocial support and education to cope with the effects of fleeing conflict and now drought. Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan has received less than 7 per cent of the required funding for education, and only 4 per cent for protection programmes.

I’ve met Somali children who are determined to build a better future for themselves and their country. They are the change we’ve been waiting for, but drought and hunger threaten to erode their dreams in an instant. The time to act is now.

Learn more about World Vision's response to the growing hunger crisis around the world. Click here.

Tobias Oloo is World Vision Somalia’s Operations Director