Horn of Africa: the devastating and persistent drought in Somalia (audio)

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Horn of Africa is in the grip of an almost unprecedented drought.Millions of people will need food aid, just to survive 2016.

Our Africa correspondent, Martin Cuddihy, has recently been to Somalia, where he met many people struggling to get enough to eat.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: For most of the trip around Somaliland – the self-declared state in the far north of Somalia – our driver listened to traditional Somali music.

Out the window, at times the scenery was nothing short of magnificent. Heading out of Borama into the low lands, we had to drive through a pretty rough mountain pass.

We drove up and down steep, stony roads and, on one occasion, there were sheer walls of rock on one side and, on the other: well, don’t look down.

We spent a lot of time in the car during that trip. And the roads were rough – even by African standards.

The second day on the road, we arrived at our destination at 11pm. At one stage I had started to drift off to sleep, only to be awoken by my head slamming into the window because of a particularly nasty pothole. That night we spent in a tent.

These are not complaints because, in reality, I had an easy time of it.

The people we met along the way are the only people who have valid complaints. They were explaining how they had nothing to eat.

I saw severely malnourished children and parents who could do nothing about it.

They told me they had no livestock – and unless you understand the context, that statement is meaningless.

Pretty much all of regional Somalia – and a lot of Ethiopia and Kenya too – lives a pastoral existence. They have cattle, sheep, goats or maybe camels.

That is how they make a living: grazing the animals and then selling them or selling their milk.

The drought robs the country of grass and there is nothing for the animals to eat.

They stop producing milk. Many of them can’t walk to market to be sold. Some die on the way.

There are people who had lost all of their animals. It’s like having your bank account emptied, with no social services to fall back on.

(Sound of cattle lowing as they are led on the side of the road)

A group of men and boys were walking the remainder of their cattle in search of pasture. They didn’t even know if there was grass in the direction they were heading. But they were walking anyway – and had no other option.

Earlier in the day they had decided to abandon some cattle. We had seen them from the car: animals standing still, waiting for death.

But it is the faces of starving children that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I have seen it previously in South Sudan about 18 months ago: the dream-like appearance, the big eyes and the thin hair are a give-away. The ribs stand out through the chest and the children seem floppy.

It does make me question what I do. Is it voyeuristic?

But then I think the best thing I can do for starving children is let the world know what’s happening.

Telling people about their plight is my way of helping. And it’s so much more important than the vacuous news that sometimes dominates Australia’s commercial media landscape.

That’s how I justify it to myself, anyway.

And, in case you were wondering, it still hasn’t rained in Somalia.

This is Martin Cuddihy for Correspondents Report.

abc.net.au

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