'Historic' drought threatens widespread starvation and death in Somalia

This video contains distressing images

Hospitals are seeing hundreds of malnourished children every day - and the country is on the edge of a famine, as ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith, cameraman Andy Rex and producer Roohi Hasan report

The rains have failed again. Somalia is now suffering its longest period of drought for more than 40 years.

Seven million people are threatened by starvation, half of the Somalia’s children are now malnourished, and at least one child dies every day.

These are the numbers.

In Dolow, western Somalia, we met the people and learned their names.

We saw Ali Omar, a father forced to bury his baby son, Abdu Kareem.

Ali told us how the child died, suffering days of sickness and diarrhoea. Eventually he just stopped eating, and that morning he noticed his son didn’t wake up.

Abdu is the fourth child Ali has lost to starvation in this drought.

This is Khaharey camp near Dolow, in western Somalia.

At the start of the year there were just 60,000 people and two camps in this region. Now there are five camps, and 146,000 people.

We watched another 500 turn up this morning.

Tired, starving, this place is their last hope for help, where they hope to find aid, food, and medicine.

They’ve marched for days - travelling through a barren wilderness to get here - coming from villages hundreds of miles away because there is no food or water left.

Among the new arrivals we find Mohammed Aliyow, who says all the cattle back home died and the wells have run dry. Some people in his group were too weak with hunger to finish the journey. They had to leave them behind.

We meet Salimo Samoo Abderaman, a mother who has just walked for five days carrying her four-month-old baby girl.

She hasn’t eaten for two days, and tells me she is no longer able to produce breast milk. To feed her child, she says she adds sugar to whatever water she can find.

Somalia is facing many man-made disasters piling on top of each other - from the drought to the war in Ukraine which is casting a long shadow, ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith reports

Fatima Abdenoo has already watched one of her children die. Now her two year-old son, Salman, is wasting away and showing all the signs of disease that follow malnourishment.

People come here to escape death. But death is never far away.

There just isn’t enough food to go around.

The UN World Food Programme is here and they do what they can, focusing on the most in need. Currently they help more than 3.5 million. But 7.1 million have already been identified as being at risk of starvation.

In reality the numbers, driven by the drought, are rising much faster than the aid can get in.

'The world needs to pay attention': Altan Butt, from the UN World Food Programme in Somalia, talks about the 'sheer magnitude' of the crisis and says people in the region could fall into famine

Right now, there’s barely enough to feed even half of those in need.

It is the young who are suffering most - with women and children making up the majority of those in the country’s internally displaced people camps - and the most serious cases are taken to a stabilisation unit.

This is where we find a little girl called Suleqa.

Severely dehydrated and malnourished - she is four-years-old, but she’s now the weight of a one-year-old.

The doctors stop talking to us when she comes in - they are visibly worried about her condition and she is urgently put on a drip.

This one ward has capacity for 16 - they are now seeing more than that number in a day.

Malnourishment makes children far more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and cholera - common causes of death here, all preventable.

The medical team can check for signs of starvation and early intervention helps.

Liban Roble, a nutrition officer, warns medication will not be enough

But medication only keeps children alive. They are then discharged into a country that is on the edge of famine.

Within months, many of the same children are starving again. The cycle continues.

“Addressing the food crisis is what we need,” says Liban Roble, Trocaire’s nutrition officer.

“Medication alone cannot solve this.”

Call it what you will - the climate in Somalia has changed.

It is drier for longer. The drought periods are happening more frequently and with more devastation.

The crops failed in the fields, and a third of the country’s livestock has already died from starvation. This was the only source of food and income for millions of people here.

But this is not happening in isolation.

Across East Africa, drought is hitting hard and more than 18 million people are at risk of simply not having enough food to eat.

With climate change, a vast landscape is quickly becoming uninhabitable and the millions of people forced out will have to re-settle somewhere.

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“This area has seen drought before but this is a historic drought,” says Altan Butt, from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia.

The WFP has received emergency support from US Aid, and they are trying to scale up their response to avert catastrophe.

However, delivering food to this particular disaster is made more complicated by rising costs of food, fuel, and security.

Getting aid in is also more dangerous with Al Shabaab militants surrounding the area, blocking routes in while millions are being pushed over the edge.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine, cutting Somali people off from their main source of grain.

Unable to grow food; unable to import food - this deadly combination of weather and war makes this crisis so much more acute.

“People have lost their livelihoods, they have lost their animals, they have lost their crops,” says Feisal Sheikh, from the UN World Food Programme.

“And now the little money they had they cannot afford to purchase what they need for daily use.”

The hardship is hitting Somali people, from every angle, all at once.

The unfairness is they aren’t responsible for any of this, but they all pay the highest price.

What we have witnessed is also a preventable tragedy. Not hidden away but happening right now, right here for all the world to see.

Back at the camp, we see another new arrival - a woman held up by those around her. Something is wrong. Suddenly she collapses in front of us.

The woman in front of her holds a bundle.

All becomes apparent. The woman has given birth along the way, then somehow walked the remaining 5km.

It’s a boy. He is healthy and his name is Abdi Najib Guleed.

But what life will this world offer him?

Donate to help the people of Somalia through the World Food Programme, the International Rescue Committee or Islamic Relief.