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Severe Drought Hits Horn of Africa

May 25, 2006 at 6:50 PM EDT
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DAVID MCGUFFIN, NewsHour Special Correspondent: She is 60
years old. All she owns are the clothes on her back. Her livestock are dead;
her crops have failed for three straight years. But Makay Sufi walked the 60
miles to this refugee camp on her own.

“I came in search of food and shelter,” she says. “I
have nothing. But even here, our monthly food rations only feed us for a
week.” Up to 500,000 Somalis like Sufi are on the move in a desperate hunt
for food.

HASSAN ADEN FARAH, Aid Worker: This is the most worst
drought we have faced us now — that we faced now for the last 30 years. Children
are dying, everything dying. Animals are dying. Camels, only a few are
surviving. So this is a big problem we face now.

Desperate times

DAVID MCGUFFIN: These camps around Wajid have gone from justa few hundred people before Christmas to almost 15,000 now, and new familiesare arriving each and every day. The conditions here are absolutely squalid.

These refugees get food but little else from theinternational community. They live in homemade tents, feeble shelter fromscorching daytime temperatures that reach 120 degrees.

The day we arrived in Wajid, a man was executed on the edgeof town, a sentence handed down by village elders. His crime was killinganother man over water rations at a distribution site. Things are thatdesperate.

In a country where warlords and militias have been fightingover Somalia'smeager resources for 15 years, the fact that food aid is making it here at allis a bit of a miracle. On land, aid convoys are attacked despite heavy guard;by sea, Somali pirates have held U.N. food shipments for ransom.

Too many mouths, too little food

Zlatan Milisic
World Food Program
We are struggling to move through and deliver to them the necessary assistance. It doesn't help their societies, either, when they're in a constant state of unrest, and attacks, and problems.

ZLATAN MILISIC, Somalia Country Director, World FoodProgram: The humanitarian situation is getting worse. We have a major number ofpeople who need our assistance, yesterday and not even today, and tomorrow willbe too late.

And we are struggling to move through and deliver to themthe necessary assistance. It doesn't help their societies, either, when they'rein a constant state of unrest, and attacks, and problems.

DAVID MCGUFFIN: In a starving land awash with guns, theproblems are never far away. Gunfire rang out as we approached this U.N. fooddistribution center, warning shots as people fought over bags of food. Too manyhungry; not enough aid to go around.

Evidence of hunger can be seen everywhere. Dead livestocklitter the landscape. This is true right across the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia, Eritrea,Djibouti and here innortheastern Kenya.

A turn in fortune

The smell of rotting carcasses around this waterhole here isoverpowering. In a region where cattle and other livestock are the onlylivelihood, herds here have already been killed off at the rate of 70 percent.

Abdikhadir Amin (ph) was once wealthy by local standards. Heused to have 120 head of cattle; only five remain. Once valued at $200 each, atbest they would now fetch five dollars. In a part of Kenya with almost no industry ordevelopment, this is devastating.

"I don't know how we'll survive," Amin says. "Cattleherding is all I know. My family now exists only because of handouts." Expertsand cattle herders agree it will take a generation at least to rebuild what'sbeen lost here.

Suffering among the young

With the main source of food and income gone, malnutritionrates are soaring. Young children are always among the first victims.

Baby Shamsa Aden (ph) was admitted to hospital so badlymalnourished doctors had trouble finding a vein to feed her intravenously. Herstory is the same as many of the children in here: drought, death of familylivestock, malnutrition, chronic diarrhea, dehydration.

Child malnutrition rates in Kenya's Wajir district are at 30percent and rising. The U.N. and international aid agencies are appealing towealthy nations to give $443 million to feed the eight million people most inneed in East Africa. So far, they've onlyreceived a quarter of that.

Unless there is a more urgent response, aid workers warnpeople will start dying.