updated 4:06 PM MDT, Mar 27, 2017
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A dusty dirt road winds across a dry, stark landscape in Baidoa, Somalia

Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine, but 4

A dusty dirt road winds across a dry, stark landscape in Baidoa, Somalia. A drought widely believed to be exacerbated by climate change is sweeping across Africa. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

BAIDOA, Somalia — First the trees dried up and cracked apart.

Then the goats keeled over.

Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime-green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.

Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from a cholera epidemic.

“Even if you can get food, there is no water,” said one mother, Sangabo Moalin, who held her head with a left hand as thin as a leaf and spoke of her body “burning.”

Another famine is about to tighten its grip on Somalia. And it’s not the only crisis that aid agencies are scrambling to address. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives.

International aid officials say it’s the biggest humanitarian disaster since World War II. And they are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
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One powerful lesson from the last famine in Somalia, just six years ago, was that famines were not simply about food. They are about something even more elemental: water. If there was any doubt, the recent news from Somalia or Nigeria should erase it.
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An elderly woman displaced by the drought in Somalia walking between makeshift tents that are now home to the desperate at a camp in Baidoa. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Once again, a lack of clean water and proper hygiene is setting off an outbreak of killer diseases in displaced persons camps. So the race is on to dig more latrines, get swimming-pool quantities of clean water into the camps, and pass out more soap, more water-treatment tablets and more plastic buckets — decidedly low-tech supplies that could save many lives.

“We underestimated the role of water and its contribution to mortality in the last famine,” said Ann Thomas, a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for Unicef. “It gets overshadowed by the food.”

The famines are coming as a drought sweeps across Africa and several different wars seal off extremely needy areas. United Nations officials say they need a huge infusion of cash to respond. So far, they are not just millions of dollars short, but billions.

At the same time, President Trump is urging Congress to cut foreign aid and assistance to the United Nations, which aid officials fear could multiply the deaths. The United States traditionally provides more disaster relief than anyone else.

“The international humanitarian system is at its breaking point,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, a large private aid group.

Aid officials say all the needed food and water exist on this planet in staggering abundance — even within these hard-hit countries. But armed conflict that is often created by personal rivalries between a few men turns life upside down for millions, destroying markets and making the price of necessities go berserk.
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Mothers tending to their children at a cholera treatment center. A lack of clean water triggered an outbreak of the disease. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

In some areas of central Somalia, a 20-liter jerry can of water, about five and a quarter gallons, used to cost 4 cents. In recent weeks, that price has shot up to 42 cents. That may not sound like a lot. But when you make less than a dollar a day and your flock of animals — your family’s pride and wealth — has been reduced to a stack of bleached bones and your farm to dust, you may not have 42 cents.

“There is no such thing as free water,” said Isaac Nur Abdi, a nomad, who sat in the dusky gloom of a cholera treatment center in Baidoa this month. He fanned his elderly mother, whose cavernous eye sockets and protruding cheekbones bore the telltale signature of famine.

Scenes like this are unfolding across the region. In Yemen, relentless aerial bombings by Saudi Arabia and a trade blockade have mutilated the economy, sending food prices spiraling and pushing hundreds of thousands of children to the brink of starvation.

In northeastern Nigeria, thousands of displaced people have become sick from diseases spread by dirty water and poor hygiene as the battle grinds on between Islamist militants and the Nigerian military, which, when it comes to protecting the vulnerable, does not have the most stellar record. The Nigerian Air Force bombed a displaced persons camp in January, killing scores, saying it was an accident.

In South Sudan, both rebel forces and government soldiers are intentionally blocking emergency food and hijacking food trucks, aid officials say. Entire communities are marooned in malarial swamps trying to survive off barely chewable lotus plants and worm-infested swamp water.

While the other countries are technically on the brink of famine, the United Nations has already declared parts of South Sudan a famine zone.
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An ailing and barely conscious man being rushed to a cholera treatment center. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Scientists have been saying for years that climate change will increase the frequency of droughts. The hardest-hit countries, though, produce almost none of the carbon emissions that are widely believed to cause climate change.

South Sudan and Somalia, for instance, have relatively few vehicles and almost no industry. But their fields are drying up and their pastureland is vanishing, scientists say, partly because of the global effects of pollution. People in these countries suffer from other people’s driving, other people’s manufacturing and other people’s attachment to things like flat-screen TVs and iPads that most Somalis and South Sudanese will touch only in their dreams.

It’s not simple to get food and clean water into these areas where everything is dried out, yellow and dead.

Baidoa itself is controlled by Somalia’s fledging government and African Union troops. But just a few miles outside the town, it is Shabab country, belonging to the Shabab militant Islamist group that has banned Western aid agencies.

”The fact that people are dying near Baidoa and we can’t get there, it makes me crazy,” said Patrick Laurent, a water and sanitation coordinator hired by Unicef in Somalia.

After Somalia’s last famine, the multibillion-dollar aid industry thought it had come up with an answer to prevent the next one: resilience. It was the new buzzword in aid circles, bandied about at workshops and among high-powered officials.
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An ailing man on a cot, and a boy on the ground. There are not enough beds and cots for all the patients. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Aid officials defined resilience as the ability to adapt to sudden environmental or political shocks. Resilience programs included livestock insurance and better water management, especially in Africa.

Some aid officials never liked this term, saying it seemed patronizing, as if Africans were built to suffer. Still, the resilience subindustry roared on.

But just as many of the new resilience programs were being funded, these latest crises hit, one after the other.
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“The environment didn’t give time for these resilience efforts to bear fruit,” Mr. Laurent said.

Ms. Thomas, the Unicef water and hygiene specialist, said that during Somalia’s last famine, the deadliest areas were not the empty deserts where there was little food but the displaced-persons camps near urban areas where, comparatively speaking, there was plenty of food.

The reason was that the crowded camps became hotbeds of communicable diseases like cholera, a bacterial infection that can lead to very painful intestinal cramps, diarrhea and fatal dehydration. Cholera is often caused by dirty water and spread by exposure to contaminated feces through fingers, food and flies.
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A hospital employee spraying disinfectant in a tent at a cholera treatment center. The crowded camps can become hotbeds of communicable diseases. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Malnutrition certainly played its part; famine victims, especially children, were compromised by a lack of nutrients. They arrived in the camps from wasted areas of the interior with their immune systems already shot.

But in the end it was poor hygiene and dirty water, Ms. Thomas said, that tugged many down.

If rivers and other relatively clean water sources start drying up, as they are right now in Somalia, this sets off an interlocking cycle of death. People start to get sick at their stomachs from the slimy or cloudy water they are forced to drink. They start fleeing their villages, hoping to get help in the towns.

Camps form. But the camps do not have enough water either, and it is hard to find a latrine or enough water for people to wash their hands. Shockingly fast, the camps become disease factories.

Water, of course, is less negotiable than food. A human being can survive weeks with nothing to eat. Five days without water means death.

Different strategies are being emphasized this time around to parry the famine. One is simply giving out cash.

United Nations agencies and private aid groups in Somalia are scaling up efforts to dole out money through a new electronic card system and by mobile phone.

This allows poor people to get a monthly allowance and shop for staples like fresh vegetables, powdered milk, pasta, dates, sugar, salt and camel meat.

Cash payments are often better for the local economy than importing sacks of food, and the people get help fast.

Many more Africans may soon need it. Sweltering days and poor rains so far this year have left Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania parched and on the edge of a major food crisis.

At the cholera treatment center in Baidoa, which logged in more than 30 cases on a recent day, many people had little inkling of what caused cholera.

When Mr. Abdi, whose mother was nearly dead from the disease, was asked what had made his mother sick, he said the cause was simple.

It was the hot season. Newyork Times


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Somalia President Mohamed (Farmajo) requesting return of relief agencies

MOGADISHU Somalia (Xinhua) -- A girl [left] collects water at an Internal Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia. Somali girls [right] drink packed drinking water at a school in Mogadishu. Some 600 million children, or one in four children worldwide, will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040, according to a report released here by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on March 22 to mark World Water Day. The report noted that more than 800 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. XINHUA PHOTOS - SUN RUIBO

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on Saturday called on humanitarian and development actors working on Somalia to return to help in the reconstruction of the Horn of Africa nation.

Speaking at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Special Summit of Regional Heads of State on durable solutions for the protracted Somali refugee situation in Nairobi, Mohamed said several parts of Somalia are largely peaceful despite attacks from the militants.

"We understand that there are serious security limitations in certain areas, but the vast majority of our country is relatively peaceful. And experience shows us that, when partners operate within Somalia, their impact is qualitatively better than those operating remotely," Mohamed said.

He pledged to increase security for all relief agencies in the Horn of Africa nation and promised to fix humanitarian challenges to enable agencies to work from inside Somalia.

The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in conflict since civil war broke out in 1991 and is one of the most difficult countries for relief agencies to operate in.

The UN says over 100 violent incidents resulted in the death of nine, injury of 11, arrest and detention of 16, abduction of three and physical assault of five humanitarian personnel also took place by September 2016.

The Islamist group Al-Shabaab which is fighting to topple the Western-backed government has been targeting humanitarian workers for political gain, sometimes demanding ransom in order to free the hostages.

Mohamed said his government will implement various projects and programs in partnership with the agencies.

"My administration will empower relevant line ministries to cooperate with all of you. And we will hold each other accountable to achieving declared objectives," he said.

He said the problem of Somali refugees in the region has been going on for far too long and urged international community to move swiftly to find a lasting solution to the menace.

"I’m confident that you will continue to honor the institution of asylum as enshrined in the international humanitarian conventions and maintain our people in safety and dignity in the best tradition of African hospitality," Mohamed told the summit.

"From our side, we will increase our effort to jointly achieve the objective of this conference on the voluntary return of our people in a safe and dignified manner, and to provide durable solutions so that they can participate in the rebuilding of a prosperous and peaceful Somalia at peace and harmony with itself and its neighbors," he added.

by David Musyoka

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Car bomb near Somalia presidential palace

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - A police official says a car bomb blast near a restaurant and hotel in Somalia's capital has killed at least one person and wounded two others. Capt. Mohamed Hussein says the car bomb detonated in the middle of a road near the presidential palace. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but homegrown extremist group al-Shabab often claims deadly attacks in Mogadishu. Another car bomb exploded Tuesday at a military checkpoint near the presidential palace, killing at least six people. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility. The extremist group has denounced Somalia's new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as an "apostate" and warned Somalis against supporting him. Al-Shabab was kicked out of Mogadishu under Mohamed's brief term as prime minister in 2010-2011. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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US African Commander General Wants to hike Intervention in Somalia

US African Commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser today confirmed that he is still seeking increased authority to carry out attacks in Somalia, seeking President Trump’s permission for more “flexibility” in carrying out airstrikes and using groundtroops in the country. It was reported last month that the Pentagon was looking to expand involvement in Somalia, though Waldhauser today confirmed that the White House has not granted them the permission that they were seeking, leaving unclear what the holdup is, as the Trump Administration is sending more and more forces across Africa. According to Waldhauser, the changes would not just open up an increase in operations in Somalia, but also allow the pentagon to provide increased direct aid to the Somali National Army, including potentially putting embedded troops in with them in areas close to combat forces. At the same time, Waldhauser downplayed exactly how much the US would expand its Somalia involvement, insisting that he has no intention of turning the country into a “free fire zone.” Still, it appears direct US involvement is going to be substantially more than it has been. Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz
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Costa Rica detains a Somali citizen suspected of "international terrorism"

PASO CANOAS-(dillapress.com) Rica detains Somali with alleged terrorism link Costa Rica detained a Somali citizen suspected of "international terrorism" after he entered the Central American country from neighboring Panama, Costa Rica's security ministry said on Thursday. U.S. authorities "confirmed that the person is allegedly linked to international terrorist organizations and sought his immediate detention to begin investigating the Costa Rican authorities identified the suspect as a 25-year-old with the last names Ibrahim Qoordheen, who entered the country on Monday through the border town of Paso Canoas, 358 kilometers (222 miles) south of the capital. After consulting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Costa Rican officials on Wednesday arrested the individual, who had been transferred to a migrant shelter. He is currently in police custody in the capital city of San Jose awaiting interrogation by ICE officials who are currently in Panama and while his immigration status is being defined, the ministry said. (Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel; Editing by Alden Bentley, Bernard Orr
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