By: Aurélie Marrier d’Unienville, IFRC
In a dimly lit, stone-walled hut in the drought stricken Somali village of Dhob, women with colourful shawls and infants in their laps wait patiently for a rare opportunity to access medical care.
In this bleak sandy village in the arid Sanaag region of Somaliland, more than 1,000 kilometres from the regional capital, health care is virtually non-existent. The visit of a team of health workers from the Somali Red Crescent Society is, therefore, a major event.
“Three years ago the land was green and livestock was healthy,” says 35-year-old Kinsi Abdi Farah who has been making a meagre living selling tea since losing her livestock to the ongoing drought. “We had a lot of meat and milk. Now we sometimes only eat once a day. I can’t afford nutritious food so we eat dry rice.”
She has brought her nephew, one-year-old Saed, to the mobile health clinic for treatment for a persistent cough, diarrhoea and a nasty skin rash, as well as getting up to date with his immunizations.
Inconsistent rainfall since 2015, attributed in part to the El Niño climatic phenomenon, has resulted in limited pasture for livestock, upon which these pastoralist families depend, not only for food, but for income generation. As livestock have died off, malnutrition, particularly among children, has increased. Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit reports that 38 per cent of the population is currently severely food insecure, with more than 300,000 children under five suffering from acute malnutrition. Severe water shortages have also led to a rise in diarrhoea, typhoid, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections.
Saed’s mother died due to complications during childbirth at the height of the drought in 2015, one of five women to die giving birth in the village in the last year alone, according to the deputy head of the village.
Since then, Kinsi has been taking care of her sister’s orphaned son, who now, in the absence of milk, sips weakly from a bottle of sugared water as he waits to see the doctors.
The team weighs and measures the youngster to assess the extent of his malnourishment before giving Kinsi a supply of high protein nutrition supplements.
“Without these health services, I don’t think Saed would have survived,” she says, as a herd of emaciated goats, their ribs clearly defined against their piebald hides, wanders past the clinic.
“Our mobile clinics are supporting nutrition for lactating mothers, pregnant women, and children under five, as well as doing vaccinations for children,” says Ahmed Abdi Bakal, Somali Red Crescent Society coordinator in Somaliland. “There are no health facilities in these areas so our mobile clinics are the only form of medical support,” adding that people travel more than 40 kilometres to access the health care provided by the Red Crescent.
In March 2016, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an Emergency Appeal of 1,290,936 Swiss francs to support the Somali Red Crescent Society in assisting 78,990 people affected by drought. Interventions focus on health and care, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, nutrition, and livelihoods. The Appeal is currently 43 per cent funded.