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Drought, hunger push Somalis to flee amid fears of famine

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Her eyes glued to the feeble movements of her malnourished baby with protruding ribs and sunken eyes, Fadumo Abdi Ibrahim struggled to hold back her tears in the stifling and crowded feeding center in Somalia's capital. She waved a scrap of fabric over him to create a current of air.

She is one of thousands of desperate people streaming into Somalia's capital seeking food as a result a prolonged drought, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. The Somali government warns of a looming famine.

An estimated 5 million Somalis, out of population of 10 million, need humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children "need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished," said the U.S. Agency for International Development's Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

Ibrahim carried her 9-month-old boy, Ali Hassan, to Mogadishu 10 days ago. A mother of five, she is a proud farmer who grew maize (corn) on her family's farm in Toratorow, an agricultural town in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, before rainy seasons failed three times over a two-year period.

"We were not able to get anything to eat, not even water — the entire environment is so parched," she said, cradling her son's bony legs and waving away flies from his face. She said she left to seek food for her baby, leaving her four older children with their father on the farm. She said the kids would not have been able to survive the trek.

Ibrahim's journey to Mogadishu wasn't easy. She and other families hiked all day and night over 30 kilometers (nearly 20 miles) across the dry landscape. Hundreds of hungry families are making the trip to seek food distribution in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

"We found several bodies of children on the road," she said, describing how mothers were too weak to carry the little corpses.

Fears are rising of a full-blown famine in Somalia. Large-scale aid is needed to avert an imminent disaster, according to the Somali government.

"The dire situation calls for international collaboration and regional partnership between governments, civil society, aid organizations, business and international donors," said the government this month encouraging regional cooperation to combat the effects of the drought.

Somalia's ongoing conflict against the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab has compounded the problems of harvest failure. The widespread hunger "is taking a particularly heavy toll on children and women, and makes people vulnerable to exploitation, human rights abuses and to criminal and terrorist networks," said the government statement.

Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, more in some areas, have caused large-scale crop failures and high levels of livestock deaths, according to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Coordination.

The U.N. humanitarian appeal for 2017 for Somalia is $864 million to provide assistance to 3.9 million people. But additional funds are needed to cope with the worsening situation, and last month, the U.N. World Food Program requested an additional $26 million plan to respond to the drought.

Tales of misery are plenty in the crowded feeding center run by a local humanitarian NGO and funded by the World Health Organization.

Under the scorching sun, Habiba Mohamed Aden struggled to hold Mohamud Ahmed, her extremely malnourished 6-month-old baby, as she waited in line to collect packs of food and nutritional supplements.

"I had to walk for many kilometers despite hunger and lack of energy to come here," said the emaciated woman who was barely able to concentrate on caring for her frail baby. "I almost died along the way. It was a terrible journey," she said wiping her bloodshot eyes. Unable to stand any longer, she sat on the ground. The 30-year-old mother, clearly malnourished herself, was quickly taken inside for assistance.

The daily influx of people seeking food aid is increasing pressure on Somalia's capital which is struggling to cope with the demands. Refugee camps are already overcrowded, filling them beyond capacity. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently. Because of a lack of clean water in many areas of Somalia, there is the threat of cholera and other diseases, say U.N. experts.

"They are so desperate," said Abdullahi Mohamed Ibrahim, deputy director of Sorrdo, a Somali organization which helps malnourished children. "The ravaging drought forced them to flee from their homes."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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