'I’ve never seen one this bad': Worst drought for 40 years puts Somalia on brink of famine

ITV News Correspondent John Irvine reports from Baidoa in Somalia, the epicentre of a hunger crisis as the country faces its worst drought in 40 years. The crisis has already displaced more than a million people, and 7.8 million others need humanitarian assistance.

Cameraman: Andy Rex. Producer: Roohi Hasan

The climate may be changing but Somalia is not.

This country has been at war for 30 years and that has prevented the build up of any resistance to the latest and worst drought for 40 years.

The conflict with al-Shabaab - the deadliest of al-Qaeda’s affiliates - means no development of infrastructure has taken place to conserve the water supply.

The result is that Somalis have no reserves to rely on when the rains fail - as they have repeatedly for the last four supposedly rainy seasons.

The country's worst drought in 40 years has already displaced more than 1 million people. Credit: ITV News

Baidoa is twice the town it should be. An influx of 600,000 hungry people has doubled the population here.

The place is a haven surrounded by al-Shabaab. Mogadishu is a three hour drive away, but neither the government nor international aid agencies use the road for fear of extortion, kidnappings and booby-traps. All aid has to be flown in.

Likewise, the needy must get themselves to Baidoa to get help. The aid can’t get to them in their villages.We met people who had spent days walking more than 60 miles to reach here.

They are all people who can no longer live off the land. Most tell exactly the same story: the drought has killed their livestock, and their crops can’t grow. 

By giving up and making the trek to Baidoa they have gone from self-sufficient to completely reliant on hand-outs.

Over the last three decades, Somalia has become a byword for hunger and hardship, but over the last two years the usual culprits - drought and conflict - have been joined by other factors: swarms of crop-eating locusts, the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, the war in Ukraine.

Somalia is facing its worst drought in 40 years. Credit: ITV News

Ukraine’s needs mean international aid is spread more thinly. Just as demand is increasing in Somalia, supplies are becoming more scarce. And much more expensive.

While Baidoa means salvation for most of those arriving here, an outbreak of measles is exacting a toll. We were taken to a hut where the parents of 16 children who’ve died in the space of a week were sharing their grief and mourning together.

All the while more people arrive. They use sticks and tarpaulins to build traditional dome-shaped homes. None knows what the future holds.

Somalia is weeks away from famine. Credit: ITV News

The aid agencies are warning that Somalia is on the edge of famine.  It’s an official term and the criteria required for a famine declaration is severe.

In other words there has to already be a lot of hunger and death to justify the term.

The last time a famine was declared in Somalia in 2011, half of the estimated 260,000 who succumbed to starvation were already dead.

Squeezed by the global economic crisis, some richer nations like the UK are reducing aid to vulnerable parts of the world, like Somalia. Credit: ITV News

We don’t know how many people are stuck in the villages dotted across this land.

We do know they are the toughest of souls and the fact that hundreds of thousands have already given up and fled from home means the situation is grim.

As she built her new home in Baidoa, Fadima told us that while she remembers previous droughts, none had forced her to up sticks before.

“I’ve never seen one this bad,” she said.

Donate to help the people of Somalia through the International Rescue Committee or UNICEF UK’s east Africa appeal