A 50-Kilometer Trek for Food in Southern Somalia

EL-BERDE, Somalia, 9 December 2008 - With only a few livestock left alive and her one-year-old malnourished twins growing weaker by the day, Mumina Bile Abdi trekked 50 kilometres from her village in Godgod to El-Berde to receive food from WFP in this town on Somalia’s border with Ethiopia.

“We trekked for a month from Godgod,” says Mumina, looking frail as Fatuma, one of the twins, wept on her mother’s back at a Mother and Child Health clinic run by the International Medical Corps in El-Berde. Dozens of other women also sought help at the clinic, the only one in town.

In a line of women waiting for their children to be weighed to establish how badly malnourished they are, Mumina says: “The twins have never breastfed from me. They have never drunk milk either. I feed them what I eat. I hope to get a food ration here so that I can walk back home.”

“Women and children are the worst hit by the drought,” the 40-year-old mother says. “I don’t know what we would do without assistance from international humanitarian agencies.”

In the coming days, Mumina and the other mothers with malnourished children screened at the clinic should receive a one-month WFP family ration consisting of 25 kilograms of sorghum, 10 kilograms of pulses, 3.6 kilograms of vegetable oil and 10 kilograms of corn-soya-blend. Some families will sell some food to buy medicine for their children or transport to their homes.

Malnutrition on the rise

Like many other districts in southern Somalia, El-Berde is hard hit by drought, successive poor rains, hyperinflation and high food and fuel prices. These combined pressures have made life desperate for many nomadic herders and families who fled insecurity in Mogadishu and other areas.

In December, WFP is distributing 221 metric tonnes of food assistance to 17,700 people -- 88 percent of the entire population of El-Berde -- including 4,800 malnourished children.

“It was extremely hard drought for almost two years,” says Saidamon Bodamaev, officer-in-charge of WFP’s regional logistics hub in the town of Wajid. “There were no rains while 90% of the people are pastoralists so they lost their livestock. It is a very serious situation.” Nutrition surveys show one in four children in El-Berde is malnourished.

The further you go from the thatched mud huts in El-Berde market, the worse the humanitarian situation appears. In a displaced camp, 13 kilometres from the town, some 100 families live in squalid camps made of sticks and tattered cloth. They say they were forced by the drought to become hunters and gatherers of wild fruits, roots and leaves to eat.