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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 14:48 GMT
Somalia pushed to brink of disaster
Dead cattle
The drought in southern Somalia is its third year
Ishbel Matheson

The sun beats down on the flat, parched earth around the village of Tulo Barawako in southern Somalia. This should be the rainy season - but there is not a cloud in the clear, blue sky.

Fields which should be waist-high in grass and crops of maize and sorghum, lie empty. The wind kicks up spiralling dust devils.

Somali girl
Many families have fled the area
Village elder Abdoullaye Aden says, "Most of the trees have died. No crops have grown. The earth has turned to dust. There's hardly any water - none in the wells. Most of the livestock has died."

The carcases of the dead livestock, are strewn across the ground. From the rib-cages of the dead goats and cows, tangled blue plastic bags protrude. So hungry were the animals, that they ended up eating - and choking - on the bags.

Alarm

Somalia's third year of severe drought is taking a terrible toll, especially here in Gedo region. Those who can escape, are doing so.


If the Americans contribute to bombings and things like that, it'll just go from bad to worse

Village elder
Abdoullaye Aden estimates 60% of the villagers have already abandoned their farms - most to live with relatives in towns.

Others rely on dwindling rations. When the hunger becomes too great, they set off on the long walk to find help, feeding their children on leaves and wild berries along the way.

Some 80km away, in the town of Luuq, an infant wails as a doctor puts a cool stethoscope on his chest, to listen to his heart and lungs.

Although bones jut out from his skinny frame, this baby boy is one of the lucky ones. The clinic deals with cases of severe malnourishment - doctors simply don't have enough beds to cope with the demand.

The clinic, as well as the nearby feeding centres, are run by the French charity, Action against Hunger. It's the only foreign aid agency distributing food relief in the area.

Southern Somali mother and child
The UN is warning that aid is running out
Medical co-ordinator Natalie Greneche says: "People die of hunger here: that's what we're seeing now. Our centres were built for 400 people. But within four months, we're dealing with 6,000."

United Nations' agencies are sounding the alarm. They warn that up to half a million people face severe food shortages in Somalia - and the situation could get rapidly worse.

Previous pleas for international help have met with a poor response. So far, only a quarter of the estimated 20,000 tonnes of food required, has been donated.

Bank closure

The humanitarian crisis has been aggravated by the closure of Somalia's main remittance bank, Baraakat. Many Somalis - particularly in Gedo region - relied on relatives sending money from abroad, through Baraakat, to bolster their incomes.

Barakat bank poster
The bank closure is driving families deeper into poverty
Luul Dirie used to run a little restaurant, in Gedo's main town, Garbahaarey. She's the sole-bread winner in her family, as her husband is disabled. Luul's cousin in America sent $50 a month. With this money, she ran her business and supported her extended family of 15.

But the cash flow stopped, when the US government closed down Baraakat, claiming it was channelling funds to terrorists. Luul could not afford to keep her restaurant going.

She says, "My families' livelihood is getting worse every day. If it continues that way - and if we don't get more money - we'll get to a state where we cannot support ourselves any more."

Many Somalis are worried what will happen if the Americans decide not to stop at the Baraakat closure.

American warships have already been patrolling off the Somali coastline, stopping and searching local fishing vessels. US officials have said publicly, that they've identified the anarchic, war-torn nation, as a place where terrorists and terrorist cells could operate.

Warlords

The threat of US action has already prompted the fragile transitional government in Mogadishu, to lock up several alleged terrorist suspects, some thought to be of Iraqi origin.

Notorious warlord General Morgan
Notorious warlord General Morgan wants US backing
But opposition militia says this is not enough. They've been fuelling American fears, seeking to turn the war on terrorism to their own advantage.

In Baidoa, a town shattered by over a decade of fighting, Mohammed Sayid Hersi - more commonly known as General Morgan - sits under a shady tree with allies from the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC).

General Morgan, one of the most notorious warlords in Somalia, chain-smokes, as his young militia men, sporting sun-glasses and guns, lounge nearby.

The SRRC opposes the transitional government - the delegation says - because it is extremist, unrepresentative, and linked to terrorism. Not - as some might suppose - because it represents a threat to their power.

General Morgan says he would like the Americans to intervene. " I don't see that Somalia needs airstrikes like Afghanistan. It is a different terrain. What is needed is to support SRRC forces, and we can do the job"

But the disruption caused by a major outbreak of fighting, could spell disaster for the half-a-million Somalis already on the brink of disaster.

In Tulo Barawako, village elder Abdoullaye Aden, is in no doubt about consequences.

"It's disastrous, really disastrous. You see how people are living here," he waves his hand around the half-deserted village, with its dusty, parched land.

"If the Americans contribute to bombings and things like that, it'll just go from bad to worse."

See also:

21 Dec 01 | Africa
Somalia's role in terror
08 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali company 'not terrorist'
24 Sep 01 | Africa
UN pulls out of Somalia
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