Somali Famine Victims Afraid to Return Home

By: Michele Wolfson

Last Friday, we reported about how the number of famine zones in Somalia was cut in half, as U.S. and U.N. food agencies said aid had reduced death rates due to malnutrition. Since the July 20th famine declaration, these regions are slowly beginning to repair from this devastation.

But many Somali women who fled their villages have no interest in returning to their homeland. Somali women living in the town of Dolo on the Ethiopian border say they won't return home for fear that they will not be able to provide food for themselves and their children and are afraid of violent Islamist militants invading the region. There are many others who have fled to Kenya and Ethiopia that share similar concerns.

A Somali U.N. worker, Abdi Nur, said many of the men at the Dolo camp have returned home to plant crops, but the women won't be following. "I don't want to go back," said Hafida Mamood, 62. "There's no security and no animals. We don't want to go anywhere. The food is here." Other women nodded in agreement. "I want to stay here because of the security," said Fahim Mohamed Mahmood, a mother of four.

Drought wiped out much of Somalia's crops, and the conditions brought upon by the famine were made more severe by al Shabaab militants obstructing the work of aid agencies. Additionally, Kenyan forces have recently moved into southern Somalia to battle the Islamic extremists, which have prevented food supplies from being delivered. The conflicts are expected to keep food production at only 30 percent of Somalia's needs, even as the rainy season approaches.

The U.N. reduced the number of people at risk of starvation to 250 million from 750 million as of last week, but aid must continue or recovering regions will be plagued by famine hardships. The U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Still, one of the worst humanitarian crises is unfolding as the fate of 13 million people affected by East Africa's worst drought in decades remains in doubt. Tens of thousands have died from this disaster and U.N. officials say it could be a year before anyone is sure the danger has passed.

Meanwhile, Islamic militants deny there's even a famine and they dispute claims that people are dying in the county's inaccessible interior where aid agencies have been denied access.

Photo: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Photos  

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