Famine propelled by conflict and climate change threatens millions in Somalia

FILE PHOTO: Kadija Mohamed cooks food for her children in a camp set up for internally displaced people in Dinsoor, January 5, 2012. Almost six months after famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the Horn of Africa country remains in the grip of a humanitarian crisis with 4 million people in need of aid, according to U.N. Figures. Picture taken January 5, 2012. To match Feature DISASTERS-SOMALIA/ REUTERS/Feisal Omar (SOMALIA - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY DISASTER)/File Photo
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Somalia is suffering one of the most acute humanitarian crises in the world. A crushing combination of conflict and climate change has left millions in jeopardy of starvation as famine again stalks the land. Special correspondent Tania Rashid and producer-videographer Neil Brandvold recently traveled to Somalia and filed this report. A warning: Images in this story may disturb some viewers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Somalia is suffering one of the most acute humanitarian crises on Earth. A crushing combination of conflict and climate change has left millions in jeopardy of starvation, as famine against off the land.

    Special correspondent Tania Rashid, producer Luc Hardy, and producer videographer Neil Brandvold recently traveled to Somalia and sent us this report, parts of which may disturb some viewers.

  • Tania Rashid:

    A humanitarian crisis is rapidly escalating in Somalia. The country is facing the worst drought in history, after five failed rainy seasons in over two years, livestock dying everywhere, crops drying up, along with many water resources. Over half of Somalia’s seven million people now face chronic hunger, and current estimates forecasts that the crisis will exceed the 2011 famine that starved 260,000 people to death.

    Now again famine looms over this land. Tens of thousands are desperately fleeing their villages in search of food and water. The ravages of climate change have contributed to the worst drought to hit Somalia in 40 years. It’s also the focus of the climate change summit known as COP 27 that ended last week in Egypt.

    Aden Ibrahim Aw Hirsi is the minister of state for environment and climate change. We spoke to him just before COP 27.

    Aden Ibrahim Aw Hirsi, Somali Minister of State For Environment and Climate Change: Somali emits 0.03 metric ton of greenhouse gas as of 2021. Yet we believe we are suffering 100 percent.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Our crew flew to the outskirts of the Ethiopian-Somali border town of Dolo with the International Organization for Migration to see the situation the ground at one of the largest camps for internally displaced people.

    Every day, there’s 50 to 60 households coming in. Where I’m standing, there are about 1,000 people, and the numbers keep rising.

    It took Murayo Liban Abdi 18 days by foot and donkey cart to make it to this IDP camp site with her five malnourished children.

  • Murayo Liban Abdi, Internally Displaced Person (through translator):

    On our way, we had issues related to water and food. We had very scarce supply. We got little money, $2, $3 from my husband’s relatives. We migrated with IDP groups, almost 80 people. Keep moving to Dolo.

    We have seen dead human bodies and remains of livestock that died because of drought. We were fortunate and safe from harm.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Soon after reaching Dolo, she had to bury her brother’s son and neighbor’s daughter, who died from malnutrition. Then, just a week later, she buried her youngest child, Luwata (ph), who grew weaker by the day, without access to food and water. She was just 2 years old.

  • Murayo Liban Abdi (through translator):

    Now when I see children her age or have the same name, it reminds me of her. I get nostalgic.

  • Tania Rashid:

    The unprecedented drought has taken its toll, but so has political unrest. Al-Shabaab has been active here for more than 15 years. The government has recently declared a state of war against the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group following relentless attacks across the country and is a focus of the U.S. counterterror efforts in the Horn of Africa.

    The majority of rural areas are controlled by the terrorist group known widely for blocking access to proper humanitarian aid and even poisoning water wells.

    Hassan Ali, a fifth generation pastoralist, trekked by foot for eight days to make it here to this IDP camp after all his livestock died. But he also had to reckon with Al-Shabaab taking over his village. They shot up his arm, taxed him on all his crops, all while actively recruiting his children for war.

  • Hassan Ali, Internally Displaced Person (through translator):

    Al-Shabaab didn’t allow anyone to bring us medications, food, and they were against all aid from the NGOs and the government. Al-Shabaab told us that Allah is the one who provides for his people.

    I believe, even if the entire world comes to our rescue, I do not think Al-Shabaab will ever peacefully leave Somalia.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Hassan anxiously waiting for his wife and six children, who were all due to arrive the next day. He had no shelter food to offer them, but the safety of his family under the sky, he says, means everything to him.

    In addition to causing terror to Somalis, Al-Shabaab is also waging campaigns that have a direct effect on the environment.

    Al-Shabaab has also been behind an illicit charcoal trade, now banned by the United Nations. While it was a major source of income for the group, it was also a primary cause for deforestation. For years, Al-Shabaab has been cutting trees for charcoal to fire hookah bars in the United Arab Emirates, an industry worth billions.

    This deforestation has led to widespread failure of crops, livestock and famine. The U.N. estimates, prior to the ban, Al-Shabaab was earning tens of millions of dollars from the illicit charcoal trade. Despite a ban, expert and other local sources confirmed the trade continues.

    We spoke to an illicit charcoal trader who requested to remain anonymous. He confirmed that the charcoal trade has continued, despite the ban, and is a source of funding for terrorism.

  • Man (through translator):

    I know that situation, the deforestation, but there are other people who will not stop cutting trees for charcoal. So why should I do it myself? It will not have an effect on deforestation.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Is that still happening today, that Al-Shabaab is involved in elicit charcoal trade?

  • Man (through translator):

    Yes, Al-Shabaab is directly invested in the charcoal trade, and they also are taxing it. They benefit from the charcoal, and the Emirates are the end users of the charcoal. This is the way they buy ammunition.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Abdisalam Guled, the former deputy director of Somalia National Intelligence and Security Agency, says the charcoal trade has contributed to the climate disaster.

    Abdisalam Guled, Former Deputy Director, Somalia National Intelligence and Security Agency: If you are flying over Somalia, you don’t see there’s any tree in there. It’s completely is a desert. And I think charcoal has played a huge part. It is a huge part of the climate change and deforestation and drought we have seen in Somalia.

  • Tania Rashid:

    We departed Dolo on a U.N. humanitarian flight to see the effects of the drought and war on urban areas in the capital, Mogadishu.

    Close to a million people have been displaced across the region. So the situation in Mogadishu has been deteriorating. Since we have been here, there have been multiple car bombs going off on a daily basis. This coincides with the government’s declaration of war against Al-Shabaab.

    Guled says the Somali government has a small window to defeat Al-Shabaab, with current uprisings taking place against them across rural areas.

  • Abdisalam Guled:

    To my understanding, but Al-Shabaab are not just a rebel or insurgent. They are system. They have been there for many years. And they are one of the richest organization in the world.

    I do see less hope in Somalia, to be honest with you. Al-Shabaab will see no one can beat them. Community will not rise again, because they will be punished by Al-Shabaab. There is a financial fatigued international community.

  • Tania Rashid:

    What’s worrisome about all this is, there are suicide bombings happening quite frequently here. Do you foresee this continuing?

  • Abdisalam Guled:

    I do see it will happen, God forbid. I do believe Al-Shabaab still have means and methods to carry out the same attack.

  • Tania Rashid:

    IDP camps on the outskirts of Mogadishu have also had a recent influx of people fleeing drought and insecurity.

    Habiba Elmy, a community leader, recalls the 2011 famine, where she nearly starved to death.

  • Habiba Elmy, Community Leader (through translator):

    You know, the 2011 famine didn’t kill me, but I almost died. Some people know the meaning of famine or the meaning of hunger or thirst, but, for some people, it’s just something they can imagine. For me, I know the real meaning of the word firsthand.

    So, when I hear that the people in this region are dying for that, it is a thorn in my flesh, a real lesson that I know, a lesson that I experienced, and the people sitting here experienced it.

  • Tania Rashid:

    With the little she has, Habiba is focused on helping new arrivals and making sure the youth don’t get recruited by Al-Shabaab.

  • Habiba Elmy (through translator):

    Their families on the outskirts of the city because you cannot keep the youth outside of this ghetto. Al-Shabaab is recruiting them.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Just a few blocks away, doctors are dealing with the most vulnerable victims, showing telltale signs of famine. Due to the crisis. 1.5 million children are now malnourished across the region.

    Dr. Mustafa Yusuf is one of the leading doctors at Action Against Hunger in Mogadishu. He has been seeing a rise in late-stage cases of malnourished children. This baby came in just a couple of weeks ago. His mother Ayesha Ali (ph) brought him from an IDP camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu. She thought he was going to die. He runs a test to see his condition.

  • Dr. Mustafa Yusuf, Action Against Hunger:

    His arm is wasted. WE check the upper arm circumference with this tape. Eleven. It’s in the red zone. And the red mean it’s severely malnourished.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Despite his condition, the doctor is hopeful about his recovery. But he worries about the future.

  • Dr. Mustafa Yusuf:

    These babies will get sicker and sicker and the number will keep increasing. And the tragedy will become more and more. And I don’t think we can deal into that. It’s really overwhelming. It’s really devastating.

  • Tania Rashid:

    And as humanitarian groups sound alarms with famine at the doorstep, an official declaration has not yet been made, but it is already overwhelming. And that devastation will kill the most vulnerable first, the children.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Tania Rashid in Mogadishu.