Somalia's hungry head for a war zone

Desperate famine victims are now heading for the capital Mogadishu

You might have thought the seemingly endless conflict for control of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, would mean it is a place best avoided if you can help it.

But for tens of thousands of Somalis hit by drought and now the threat of widespread famine, that danger is eclipsed by a glimmer of hope - an escape from the hunger.

"With this drought we were hungry at home - no water no food; so we decided to leave the village and head to a camp," said mother-of-five Safia Ali Noor, who caught a lift on the back of a truck for the more than 200km- (125 mile-) journey to Mogadishu.

Start Quote

Nobody could farm anything; so I headed for Mogadishu on foot. It took me a week”

End Quote Ismail Mohamed Ibrahim

Her twins, Nasir and Abshir, are desperately in need of help.

They are 12 months old but look as fragile as new-born babies so severe is their malnutrition.

A young woman pushes long sticks into the sandy ground - the frame for a new home that will be draped in cloth or, if she is lucky, a donated plastic sheet.

Badbaado Camp was only opened on 12 July. It is already home to more than 21,000 people.

Cross-fire

One of several camps for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, it lies just 400m from the front line in the conflict between pro-government forces and the Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, al-Shabab.

Bullets sometimes hit the camp during cross-fire.

It is protected by soldiers from the transition government - whose uniforms are as diverse as their ages.

One 13 year old held his AK47 assault rifle tightly as he sat in the back of a 4x4.

Somali displaced people wait for a food-aid distribution at a camp in southern Mogadishu on 21 July 2011 Somalia has been at war for two decades

At the camp's therapeutic feeding centre you get a picture of just how deep the crisis is.

Twenty years of war followed by prolonged drought have taken their toll.

In the rubble of a once grand but now destroyed home, women queue up cradling their babies.

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Many children are getting here too late”

End Quote Rozanne Chorlton Unicef

Well over 1,000 children have been registered as malnourished in this camp in just nine days.

Aid agencies are trying to rescue them, offering the peanut-based Plumpy'nut therapeutic food as well as medicine and vaccines.

"We really need to have enough supplies to provide for these children," said Rozanne Chorlton, Somalia representative for the UN children's agency.

"We need vaccinations and supplementary food; we need clean water and sanitation facilities. Of course fundamentally we need food," she said.

"Many children are getting here too late; many are being referred to the hospital stabilisation centre but those children are already in a very, very bad condition."

Box of cash

A saloon car pulled up.

The boot was flipped open to reveal cardboard boxes full of cash.

Women sat in lines in the sand to receive a thick wad of notes - valued at $3 (£1.80).

A displaced Somali mother attends her malnourished child at southern Mogadishu's Banadir hospital on 19 July  2011 Many children look younger than their years because of malnutrition

A gift from the diaspora - but not enough to go round.

The other side of a roll of barbed wire, the men with guns were trying to keep control.

On the wrong side of the wire they were going to have to go without.

On the popular side of the barbed wire sat Ismail Mohamed Ibrahim: 70 years old and totally blind, he queued for some food being cooked in huge metal pots over wood fires - this distribution was a gift from Qatar.

Extended drought is causing a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Weather conditions over the Pacific means the rains have failed for two seasons and are unlikely to return until October.
An estimated 12 million people in the region are affected by the drought. The UN has declared a famine in six areas of southern Somalia, where it says 750,000 people could die in the coming months in the absence of adequate response.
The humanitarian problem is made worse by conflicts. Militants had lifted a ban on aid agencies operating in parts of southern Somalia, but have since accused Western groups of exaggerating the scale of the crisis and again limited access.
Since the beginning of 2011, around 15,000 Somalis each month have fled into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food and water. The refugee camp at Dadaab, in Kenya, has been overwhelmed by more than 420,000 people.
Farmers unable to meet their basic food costs are abandoning their herds. High cereal and fuel prices had already forced them to sell many animals before the drought and their smaller herds are now unprofitable or dying.
The refugee problem may have been preventable. However, violent conflict in the region has deterred international investment in long-term development programmes, which could have reduced the effects of the drought.
Development aid would focus on reducing deforestation, topsoil erosion and overgrazing and improving water conservation. New roads and infrastructure for markets would help farmers increase their profits.
The result of climate conditions, conflict and lack of investment is that millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are currently existing on food rations in what is said to be East Africa's worst drought for 60 years.
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"Nobody could farm anything; so I headed for Mogadishu on foot. It took me a week," he told me.

He had come from a village in Lower Shabelle - often referred to as Somalia's breadbasket but now one of the regions where the UN has declared a famine.

Peering out through the windows of an armoured vehicle full of Burundian peacekeepers, I could see that parts of Mogadishu are full of the hustle and bustle of business.

There are plenty of shops selling colourful cloth, money transfer points, dentists and building materials.

But the landscape is changing as shelters are mushrooming on empty spaces being swallowed up by new camps.

This influx of the hungry and displaced is bound to add new security challenges for those charged with trying to make the capital safe.

Getting the aid to Mogadishu might be a straightforward task compared to accessing the swathe of al-Shabab held territory across southern Somalia - that is where the drought has hit hardest and where the help is needed most.

And with al-Shabab reversing an earlier decision to lift the ban on some international agencies, it looks as though the political fighting will hamper the fight to feed the hungry.

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