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Africa's Hungry Horn

'The Worst I've Ever Seen'

Video
Adults, children, and animals alike in El Barde, Somalia are struggling with unprecedented levels of hunger that is spreading across the country. Video by Miguel Juarez for washingtonpost.com

Across a dust-blown square this week, formerly self-sufficient people including Ali stood in long lines for rations.

When he first arrived in El Barde, Ali depended on relatives, he said, but their supplies are now exhausted. On many days, he said, he's been making a meal out of tea.

"This is the worst I've ever seen," said Ali, who tries to make money by collecting and selling about the only resource left here -- dried-up twigs used for firewood.

As the rations were handed out, officials instructed women on what to do if bandits made a dash for the food.

Khadja Mohamed, 40, guarded her supplies, waiting for a neighbor's donkey cart to help her haul the food home. When the rains stopped coming, she said, her husband left her and their nine children to find work in Kenya. He never returned, she said matter-of-factly, looking out across the brownish yellow landscape.

"Normally, all this is green," she said.

The next rainy season is supposed to start in October, but the wells and watering holes that usually last until then are drying up. Only a couple of weeks ago, one natural trough stretched about 50 yards in diameter across the sand. It has since shrunk to a few puddles, and the well at its center is more than half empty.

The minor oasis was crowded not with cattle and goats but mostly camels, as locals often trade for the heartier animal during prolonged droughts. But the camels -- some of whom had come 40 miles to find water -- were boney, their ribcages showing.

"You see, they are weak," said Jama Abdullahi Samad, 62, a herder. "They don't have any water, and people don't have any food. We are just hoping for support from the U.N. We don't know what will come tomorrow."


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