'Our parents, our brothers and sisters are there... Some of them are dying'

As mile after mile of scorched earth stretches out, the scale of the devastating drought in East Africa becomes heartbreakingly clear.

Some parts of East Africa have not had rain in three years Credit: ITV News

The United Nations has warned of an “unprecedented” humanitarian crisis in the region - with some 20 million people in Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen at risk of dying of famine.

Some parts have not seen a single drop of rain in three years.

Rivers are drying up, crop fields are barren, and livestock is dying - meaning food, as well as water, is becoming ever more scarce.

For people in the Midlands with family still in the region, it’s a race against time to try to save their loved ones.

“It’s terrible,” Ahmed Joheri Bilal, an Imam at the Huda Community Centre in Birmingham, told me.

"When you see a phone call coming and you pick up that phone and you hear very sad stories - a member of your family has died because of food, others have had children die without food or water... you can't stand it."

Communities in the Midlands are fundraising Credit: ITV News

“It's absolutely disastrous," he added.

The centre has urged members to send what money they can to help people suffering from the drought in Somalia, with most sponsoring at least one family each.

Fowzia Dahir, one of the leading women at the Huda Centre, said the desperate situation had affected everybody.

"It is very hard and very painful, especially when we see people are dying, and even the livestock is dying because of lack of food, lack of water,” she said.

“If nothing is done, I can't imagine what will happen.”

Livestock is dying from lack of food and water Credit: ITV News

Thousands of people from East Africa now live in the Midlands.

According to the 2011 Census, there are more than 7,700 Somali-born people in Birmingham alone - along with just over a thousand in Coventry and more than 3,200 in Leicester.

Somali-born living in Birmingham
living in Coventry
living in Leicester

Leaders from various organisations within Birmingham’s Somali community have been holding regular meetings to discuss how best to help.

20 million people are at risk of dying from hunger Credit: ITV News

Hassan Abdirizak is coordinating the fundraising effort.

With two events already under their belt, they’ve managed to send an impressive £15,000 to those in need in Somalia already - and they hope to raise thousands more in the coming weeks.

Sometimes really you sit down in a corner, and you cry at what's happening there.

To see it is really hard and very difficult.

Some of us, our parents are there, our brothers and sisters are there, and they are the ones that is affected by the famine.

Some of them are dying. And that is why we need to help.

– Hassan Abdirizak, fundraiser

Others are hoping to help in different ways.

Nottingham University student Victor, who's from Nigeria, has created a simple solar-powered light to help those living without electricity.

He's hoping to finance the Liter of Light project through crowd-funding, with a pledge to match-fund from the university itself.

The Liter of Light project will help people without electricity Credit: ITV News

“People there are struggling with less than a pound a day already,” he said.

"What this project will do for such communities is one less thing to worry about. So whereas there may not be food at home, there is light to do their homework. And the parent, dad or mom, can actually use this as a micro-business to empower themselves."

Light is a “personal issue” for him, he said. As a boy in Nigeria, he was forced to study by candlelight - with his worried parents constantly interrupting to make sure he had not knocked over his lamp and started a fire.

He hopes his creation can be part of a long-term solution.

But for now, families here in the Midlands are appealing for help in providing much-needed aid.

The question, they say, is whether it will get there in time.

  • Video report by Charlotte Cross:

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