MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time, we learned drought and famine in Somalia have killed 29,000 children under age 5. In fact, this is the worst drought in 60 years, affecting millions of people in four African countries.
The United Nations predicts famine will continue spreading, and a Minneapolis man knows a handful of those who are suffering.
“The story they tell me, after story, after phone call is just amazing,” said Ali Ali, who owns a cellular phone store in south Minneapolis.
Ali has sent his mother and sister money to live on, so they should be fine, but he worries for his friends back home who don’t have the same financial support.
The United Nations has said previously that tens of thousands of people have died in the drought. The U.N. now says 640,000 children are acutely malnourished — a statistic that suggests the death toll of small children will rise. That’s about the size of the city of Minneapolis and the city of St. Paul combined.
“It is hard, having a hard time with what to do and they don’t have any help,” said Ali.
What people are going through is likely the closest thing to hell on earth. They’re starving under extreme heat. They’re in such desperate need for food and water that some are walking 100 miles just to get it. That would be like walking from downtown Minneapolis to Eau Claire, Wis.
American Refugee Committee, based in Minneapolis, has workers distributing food and supplies. They’re concentrated in Somalia’s capital city and are hoping to provide clean water and sanitation services soon but only with help.
“This is one of those emergencies where right now it’s all about money,” said Daniel Wordsworth, the president and chief executive officer of A.R.C. “Now there’s not enough food to last the next few weeks, but there is enough to provide now. What we’re doing is we’re receiving funding. We transfer that funding to Mogadishu, and that team buys the goods on the ground, and they take and deliver those foods to families.”
Said Sheik-Abdi, with the American Refugee Committee, said in Mogadishu, there are 70,000 people displaced.
“They haven’t received rainfall for the past two or three years,” he said. “Farmers lost their livestock, they lost their farms and some families are loosing the children.”
Sheik-Abdi said the ARC has organized several events to raise money. Abdifatah Farah, spokesman for Ka Joog, a nonprofit organization that works with Somali youth, said they are doing the same. The events include car washes, a basketball tournament and a picnic. ARC managed to raise $7,000.
“Everybody out there is starving,” Farah said, adding that he has family living in southern Somalia. “I haven’t been in contact with them. Everyone is trying to raise money and send it back home. People there are depending on us. They have nothing.”
NewsRadio 830 WCCO’s Edgar Linares Reports
Thirty students from the University of Minnesota have pledged to raise $1,000 dollars each for the ARC. General Mills has also stepped up by donating $100,000 to ARC.
Farah is not only raising money, he’s also planning to head to a refugee camp in Kenya where many Somalis are escaping the famine.
“We’re going to go over there and film people,” he said. “Then bring it back and share it with people here to donate more money.”
There is also medical group in the Twin Cities made up of doctors and nurses who are planning a trip to Somalia to help, according to Sheik-Abdi. They have a group on Facebook called Neighbors for Nations.
Photographer Tyler Hicks with the New York Times said there was one thing that really jumped out at him while taking pictures. He recalled just how incredibly frail the children were. There were several moments that he didn’t know the children were alive in their mother’s arms until the child shifted a bit.
“Thousands, many thousands of people, and that fact that they’re coming into Mogadishu, one of the most unsafe cities in the entire world, says a lot about the condition of what they’re experiencing in their villages and how desperate they have to be,” Hicks said.
The United Nations predicts all of Somalia will suffer from widespread famine in the next month, a situation that will likely grow worse before getting better.
“This is where quick action will help these people,” Ali said.