Local residents on their way to fetch water from a distribution by the Danish Refugee Council outside Dollow in southwestern Somalia. All photos: Tobin Jones

Hunger forces 615,000 Somalis to leave home in search for help

In several East African countries the critical humanitarian situation continues. Despite massive efforts from the UN and organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council, more people are at risk of hunger every day.


In Somalia more than 615,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in search of food and water since November last year. The severe drought continues in most of the country and is forcing thousands of people to move towards the urban areas, where humanitarian assistance can be found.

The same development is also – to a lesser extent – seen in several of Somalia’s neighboring countries, like Ethiopia and Kenya, since drought does not respect borders.

“We have been hoping that the rains would come here in April, but it has not rained nearly to the extent of what is needed. Therefore the drought is still widespread and has huge humanitarian consequences,” says Head of Emergency in the Danish Refugee Council, Rasmus Stuhr Jakobsen, who has recently been to Somalia to visit with some of many efforts being carried out by the organization.

“All our livestock died”

Every day more people are arriving to informal makeshift camp sites. In some places they make up hundreds. Other places thousands. They are exhausted, dehydrated and desperate. The extensive drought in Somalia and other parts of the region has destroyed their livelihoods and is forcing whole populations on the move. Many of the drought-displaced are moving towards urban areas where aid agencies are able to access.

"The current drought is one of the worst we've seen in 40 to 50 years," Rasmus Stuhr Jakobsen says.

In Dollow, in southern Somalia, makeshift camps for the new arrivals are mushrooming on the outskirts of the town.

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"We walked for three days. We had to – there hasn’t been any rain. For the past three years, the rainy season has been very short,” says 50-year-old Fatima:

“All our livestock died and I did not want us to suffer the same destiny. That is why we left," she says.

"These people live in rural areas, where they live off the land and depend on their animals. Both are very badly affected by the drought. The value of the animals is decreasing because they are not getting water and food - so they aren’t worth anything. At the same time, food prices are going up. This means that the remaining financial resources of these families is completely eroded, which forces them to move. For us right now it is first and foremost about water and about food. It is about saving lives. Unfortunately the need for this is immense at the moment. Many of the people I spoke to in Somalia are in a desperate situation and as a consequence we have greatly scaled up our efforts in the last months,” says Rasmus.

Children among the most vulnerable

In drought periods children are especially vulnerable. Malnourished children have a nine times greater risk of dying of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and measles. During the famine in Somalia in 2011 more than 100,000 small children died – most of them due to afore mentioned diseases.

According to new figures from UNICEF more than 1.4 million children are either already suffering from acute malnutrition or will do so in in 2017. This figure is 50 percent higher than projected at the beginning of the year. Among the 1.4 million children, 275,000 are either suffering for or will face life-threatening acute malnutrition during 2017.

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"We had hoped the rain would come in April, but unfortunately the levels have not been as needed. Rains have recently begun in some parts of the country creating flooding and greatly increase the risk of diseases spreading. Overall there is a very great need for help in Somalia. We see children who die as a result of malnutrition and diseases, and this number will unfortunately only increase in the time to come," says Rasmus Stuhr Jakobsen.

Efforts are increased daily

“It is a massive tragedy and we are working hard every day to help people stay alive by ensuring access to food and water for hundreds of thousands, who are in desperate need. But unfortunately a series of unfortunate circumstances make it difficult to get aid to all the people in need in Somalia. This includes the unstable security situation, which does not give access to humanitarian assistance in a range of areas. This is one of the reasons why more than 615,000 people have had to leave their homes since November,” Rasmus Stuhr Jakobsen says and elaborates:

“This in turn has created new challenges in the areas where people congregate, where the capacity to host them does not exist. In many settings where IDP camps have sprung up, there are great risks of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, because there are no or very limited access to sanitation facilities. Therefore we do a lot of work on sanitation, such as the construction of toilets and the distribution of soaps and other hygiene items. Right now we are helping hundreds of thousands to survive, but unfortunately the needs at the moment are far greater than the resources.”

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How we save lives in Dollow

The Danish Refugee Council is one of the largest humanitarian organizations working in Somalia. We bring water to drought-affected communities, help distribute food and set up toilets in the many new IDP camps, which have sprung up as a consequence of the drought. This way we seek to minimize the risk of infectious diseases. In the area around Dollow in the southern part of the country, we have already helped more than 25,000 people. In the coming months we will significantly increase our efforts in order to save more lives.

In our work with providing help and assistance, we always have a long-term focus to ensure that the affected communities are strengthened against future disasters.

Helping across borders

The UN warns that the on-going growing drought can develop into the biggest humanitarian disaster since its establishment in 1945. Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria have been described as 'the four famines’, but the extensive drought does not know of borders. Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of Uganda are also severely affected. The extensive drought leaves as many as 20 million people at risk which makes rapid assistance and access to food and water a matter of life and death.

The Danish Refugee Council is present in all of the affected countries and work across borders to help as many people as possible.