Aid workers rush to feed East Africans hit by famine

Associated Press


Seven-month-old Mihag Gedi Farah is the frail face of famine in the Horn of Africa. He stares out wide-eyed almost in alarm, his skin pulled taut over his ribs and twiglike arms.

At only 7 pounds, he weighs as much as a newborn but has the weathered look of an elderly man.

Mihag is just one of 800,000 children who officials warn could die across the region. Aid workers are rushing to bring help to dangerous and previously unreached regions of drought-ravaged Somalia.

Famine victims such as Mihag bring new urgency to their efforts, raising concerns about how many hungry children still remain in Somalia, far away from the feeding tubes and doctors in the field hospital at this Kenyan refugee camp.

Mihag’s fragile skin crumples like thin leather under the pressure of his mother’s hands, as she touches the hollows where a baby’s chubby cheeks should be.

Sirat Amine, a nurse- nutritionist with the International Rescue Committee, puts Mihag’s odds for survival at only 50-50. A baby Mihag’s age should weigh about three times what he does.

His mother, Asiah Dagane, fans Mihag with the edge of her headscarf to keep flies away. He cries weakly, and when he does, she bounces him gently to try to soothe him and murmurs softly.

“In my mind, I’m not well,” she says softly. “My baby is sick. In my head, I am also sick.”

Mihag is the youngest of seven children in his family. Dagane told The Associated Press through a hospital translator that she brought him and four siblings from Kismayo to Kenya after all their sheep and cattle died.

Like the tens of thousands of other Somalis fleeing starvation, the family traveled sometimes by foot, other times catching rides with passing trucks, cars or buses.

The United Nations estimates that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought, with 3.7 million in Somalia among the worst-hit because of the ongoing civil war in the country.

Somalia’s prolonged drought became a famine in part because neither the Somali government nor many aid agencies can fully operate in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants, and the U.N. is set to declare all of southern Somalia a famine zone as of Monday.

Aid organizations including the U.N. World Food Program have not been able to access areas under the control of the al-Shabab militants, who have killed humanitarian workers and banned the WFP.

The U.N. has said it will airlift emergency rations later this week to try to reach at least 175,000 of the 2.2 million Somalis who have not been helped yet.

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