I’ve seen the impact of the drought and World Vision’s response to save the lives and reduce the suffering of hundreds of thousands of children.
I will carry home with me many images and memories: Sabina scooping water from a dry river bed in Masaai land; Ralia and her unnamed daughter, born only hours earlier into the dust and drought of north-east Kenya; Fatuma and her daughter, Amina, lost to measles in Dadaab refugee camp; bright eyed Zam Zam recovering from malnutrition in Garowe; and Abdullah, the miracle boy who survived being shot in the head in Mogadishu only to find himself on the edge of survival again in the desperate camps of Buntinle.
As I write this looking down on Somalia from the window of this UN humanitarian flight, I find myself reflecting on that complex, tragic yet hardy country. In Puntland, we’ve met just a few of the 125,000 people displaced by drought and conflict. I’ve seen that these numbers are growing daily. Yet they are only part of what may be between one and two million of Somalia’s eight–ten million people that are on the move – fleeing from famine and war.
Imagine one in every five or six families in our own country homeless and on the run; how would we cope? Yet these people are fleeing not to comfort but into other areas that are already desperately drought affected themselves – whether north within Somalia to Puntland, or west into Ethiopia and north-east Kenya. Somalia was already one of the poorest countries of the world and simply does not have the resources to cope. Ethiopia and Kenya have more, but nowhere near enough.
This drought was underway well before the world woke up to it with the media attention in July. It’s likely to continue and get worse over the weeks ahead. Just this week, a sixth area of Somalia was officially declared as famine. With what I’ve seen here it would be no surprise if Puntland follows and north-east Kenya too, and my colleagues tell me similar from parts of Ethiopia.
It’s over 20 years since I started working in places like this, from drought ravaged west Africa in the late 1980s, to cyclone devastated Bangladesh in 1991, to war torn Cambodia in the early 1990s. Over the last few years I’ve helped lead World Vision UK in responding to the Asian Tsunami, earthquakes and floods in Haiti and Pakistan. Each emergency has its own stories of tragedy, hope and courage. In its geographic scale and chronic long term needs this drought in the Horn of Africa is as bad as anything I’ve seen.
World Vision’s response is impressive, seeing the local and international teams here scale up across three countries to reach 2.5 million people in need, and at the same time work with communities to find long term solutions that will help children like Zam Zam, Abdullah and Sabina not to face this again as they grow up.
As I return home to the UK tonight, my hope and my prayer is that the world will not forget, that we will not let our hearts grow cold to the incredible suffering here, which we can do something to change.