In Somalia, more than two and a half decades of armed conflict has had a devastating impact on innocent civilians. There are now more than 870,000 Somalis registered as refugees in nearby countries, and over 2.1 million people are displaced within the country itself. Insecurity has meant that aid agencies have often struggled to reach the most vulnerable communities.
Twice in the last decade this conflict has combined with extreme drought to horrifying results. Hunger reached famine levels in 2011 when over 250,000 men, women and children lost their lives. Just six years later, similar devastation was narrowly averted during an even more severe drought, thanks in part to a rapid humanitarian response.
While loss of life on such a scale may have been avoided, hundreds of thousands of people were still forced to abandon their homes and millions were left in desperate need of food. Right now, 1.2 million children are malnourished. That is half of all children under the age of five.
There is hope
When long and protracted conflicts rage on, the situation can seem hopeless. Our teams on the ground encounter desperately sad stories every day. But they have not lost hope. And they have good reason not to. Because they know that the incredibly difficult work they are doing is saving lives. The lives of young children like Yasmiin*.
In March of 2017, Yasmiin was brought to one of Concern’s nutrition centres in Mogadishu. She had walked for ten days with her mother Aamiina* from their rural village in search of food in the capital. Emaciated from lack of food, five-year-old Yasmiin weighed just 12 kilograms. Our staff immediately admitted her into our emergency nutrition programme. Just 9 weeks later, she was almost back to the weight that a healthy girl her age should be.
*Names changed to protect identities
Treating hunger is a vital part of our work. But preventing it is our main goal. It is infinitely more challenging do to this in conflict situations, like in Somalia. But so long as people have access to the support they need, it is possible.
One of the other aspects of our work in Somalia is working with communities to make them more resilient to the insecurity they are exposed to during on-going conflict.
We have established self-help groups for women in vulnerable communities. Supported by cash grants from Concern, the women in these groups can start to save money. Pooling their resources, they can then assist each other with loans to start small businesses or to overcome problems in times of need. But it is not just the women who benefit, it is their families and wider communities.
In fact, during the extremely challenging conditions of the 2017 drought, some of these self-help groups were able together to support families who had been forced to leave their homes in search of food. Members from 10 different groups collected items from their communities including rice, flour, soap, utensils, plastic sheets and clothes and distributed them to 68 families who had recently arrived in a nearby camp and had yet to receive any other assistance.
Their collective strength and solidarity is proof that if we work together, we can make an impact in the face of hunger.