Inside this overcrowded, understaffed hospital, evidence of Somalia’s worst famine in two decades is all around. Turn left, and a baby suffering from severe malnutrition is listless, too weak to cry. Turn right, and a baby’s face is crisscrossed with white tape to hold the feeding tube slipped into its small nostrils.
Then look a few steps away at the baby with the peeling skin, suffering not only from severe malnutrition but also measles and malaria. Hunger warps the body — along with the entire immune system.
The scenes at Banadir Hospital reflect the immense challenge facing this Horn of Africa nation, already besieged by multiple woes, from civil war to radical Islamist militants to a weak transitional government incapable of governing effectively, despite massive support from the United States and its allies.
This week, the scale of the challenge came into sharper focus: The United Nations declared that Somalia’s famine has spread to a sixth region and warned that at least 750,000 people are at risk of dying in the next four months if aid efforts are not stepped up. Tens of thousands have died, U.N. officials say. Most are children.
Searching out aid
The center of the crisis is in southern Somalia. Tens of thousands of people have trekked for hundreds of miles to reach refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Thousands more have arrived here in Mogadishu, settling down in 188 makeshift settlements around the capital city. They are the fortunate ones. Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked militia that controls large swaths of southern Somalia, has prevented many people from leaving famine-stricken areas, U.N. officials say.
For two years, Natesha, Anfa’s mother, lived as a refugee in the Afgooye Corridor, a stretch of road northwest of Mogadishu that houses large settlements of displaced people. She had escaped civil war. Then came a drought, and by July, a month after Anfa’s birth, the United Nations declared a famine. But as the crisis grew, al-Shabab barred humanitarian aid from entering Afgooye, as it has in other areas it controls.
Anfa was sick from the day she was born, Natesha said. And with each passing day, her frail body deteriorated. On Monday, with Anfa virtually motionless, Natesha cradled her in her arms and took a minibus to the capital. They left early to avoid al-Shabab fighters and arrived at the hospital at 9 a.m.
By 11:45, they had yet to see a doctor.
Anfa moved her tiny head and turned to reach her mother’s breast. But even that effort was a struggle, and soon Anfa gave up. Even if she had the energy, disappointment lay ahead.