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say 2 million facing death within weeks Byline: Ed Timms Credit: Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL Page Number: 1A Word Count: 2097 Dateline: BAIDOA, Somalia BAIDOA, Somalia -- Dahaba Ali Aburahman stood on the dust-blown street, holding a 4-month-old baby near death. She offered her desiccated breast to the infant. Both mother and child remained hungry. Nearby strolled a youngster selling a tray of dates dipped in sugar. Mrs. Aburahman, a herdsman’s wife, already has lost two of her five children to hunger. Like thousands of others, her family fled the barren countryside in search of food. She does not know whether her baby -- frail, barely the size of a newborn, and with sallow eyes -- will survive. “God knows,” she said. It is a horrifying scene made all the worse by its ordinariness. Death is taking about 200 Somalis a day in Baidoa, and despite the arrival of food donations, the toll is getting worse. Until now, relief teams trying to assess the catastrophe of Somalia have estimated that as many as 2,000 people a day are dying of starvation, and 1.5 million could die within weeks unless they get food. Now United Nations and Red Cross officials talk of 2 million Somalis facing death and an unknown number beyond that. They say each day brings news that adds to the scale of the tragedy. Refugees leaving remote villages to seek food aid in cities such as Baidoa, and assessment teams returning from areas previously unseen by relief agencies, say starvation in Somalia may be more widespread than ever imagined. “It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Mohamed Sahnoun, the U.N. special representative for Somalia.
Surreal existence Somalia presents a surrealistic world where mass starvation and sugared-date sales boys walk the same streets, where drought and war and disease afflict hundreds of thousands while gunmen and greedy merchants get rich. A global relief effort -- outgunned and overwhelmed -- has just begun to reach across the country. As word spreads that food is coming, villagers who had been sitting inside their huts waiting to die move on bone-thin legs toward Baidoa and other feeding centers. “We’re not stopping starvation; we’re only slowing it,” said Dr. Said Muse Aden, who heads the UNICEF office in Baidoa. The exodus from the countryside grows at a time when new crops need to be planted to break the cycle of famine. Somalia’s war and famine emptied Baidoa of its original residents. Farmers and nomads came in from the countryside to take their place. Since the beginning of June, one relief official estimated, the population may have more than doubled. Relief agencies now guess that as many as 100,000 people are living in Baidoa. Some of the hundreds of Somalis who die each day collapse just outside relief kitchens that offer a chance for survival. Several miles to the north of Baidoa, a village chieftain set aside his sword and hand grenade, his protection against bandits, to cleanse himself in preparation for prayer. He stood next to a shallow open grave that had been scratched into a barren cornfield with arrows and sticks. For days, starving Somalis had walked past the body of a young boy who fell beside the dirt road leading to Baidoa. Village chieftain Sheik Caliyoow Sheik Ibrahin stopped to bury the boy in accordance with Islamic custom. Afterward, Sheik Caliyoow, 56, the father of 15 children, picked up his weapons and began walking toward Baidoa with his ailing wife to seek medical help for her and more food for his village of Goof-gadut. Relief workers have begun providing some food to Goof-gadut, but Sheik Caliyoow said his village doesn’t have enough food or water. His people don’t like the limited supplies of rice that have been taken
there because they don’t feel well after eating it. They want sorghum instead. Dr. Aden supports the idea of distributing sorghum instead of rice. In addition to the local population’s preference for sorghum, he said, it is a less attractive target for looting than rice, which is widely consumed elsewhere. Sheik Caliyoow planned to make a direct appeal to relief agencies in Baidoa. “We don’t need speeches, we need more food,” he said. “There are no seeds” In an effort to stop the migration of rural people to Baidoa, the International Committee of the Red Cross is staffing relief kitchens in more remote areas. It operates 22 kitchens in Baidoa and more than 40 in the surrounding countryside. A rainy season is approaching in about a month, and a Somali agronomist said that seeds must be planted within weeks. But there is little seed available in the Baidoa farming region, where empty villages -- and untilled fields cracked like a jigsaw puzzle by drought -- are all too common. A few miles from the roadside burial is a village of thatch huts known as Haawen. Its chief, Hassan Abukar Ibrahim, 48, said his village once had herds of camels and other livestock – “too many to count” -- that were all stolen by troops loyal to deposed Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. “We are ready to plant,” he said. “But there are no seeds.” Until recently, the village’s population was dispersed more deeply into the countryside. A relief worker who passed through Haawen about a week ago counted 14 people there. Now, several hundred wait for food. The Red Cross set up a kitchen last week that quickly ran out of food when hundreds of hungry people began showing up. A feeding center established by Concern, an Irish group that focuses on saving malnourished children, continues to operate in Haawen and on Tuesday fed more than 1,800.
Before the kitchen opened, Mr. Ibrahim said, the villagers ate “grass and leaves.” People began to return, he said, when word spread that food was there. He is worried that the Red Cross kitchen has no more food. Hundreds of villagers, mostly women holding empty pots or bowls, squat patiently by the roadside hoping that a truck with food will arrive. Mr. Ibrahim believes that there will be an end to the problems of Somalia only when there is enough food. “I am thinking with my stomach now,” said the father of seven. Struggle to plant Paul Oberson, a delegate to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baidoa, said Somalia’s ultimate recovery depends on re-establishing agriculture. But, he said, farmers must first be nourished enough to work their land. Then, they must have enough dry food to feed their family until the harvest, “so they don’t eat the seed” or the crop before it matures. An assessment in July revealed that some corn actually was being grown and harvested in some pockets in southeastern Somalia, said Dr. Tibebu Haile Selassie, UNICEF program coordinator for Somalia. One program, he said, hopes to collect 500 tons of seed from local harvests to help re-establish 15,000 families in the lower Juba and lower Shabele valleys “if we are quick enough to buy and distribute it.” “There is seed available immediately if we are quick enough to stop them eating it,” he said. Dr. Selassie said the program would not help farmers in other regions, including the Baidoa area. “We have to start somewhere,” he said. A slow start Relief efforts have faced numerous problems throughout southern Somalia. Some of the relief agencies involved, particularly those of the
United Nations, have been criticized for not responding quickly enough to the crisis and for allowing bureaucratic restrictions to interfere. Dr. Aden, the UNICEF representative in Baidoa, said the United Nations’ decision to pull out of Somalia in early 1991, as the country plunged deeper into armed chaos, “was really a big mistake.” “We should have a stronger presence,” the Somali physician said. “I am not happy -- not only with the United Nations . . . but with the whole international community that has not reacted soon enough.” In Baidoa, he noted, “myself and a logistical assistant . . . are the U.N. presence here.” Dr. Selassie, however, said he “would like to discourage more than what we have in Baidoa.” “We don’t need a big presence,” he said. “There are so many areas that have no services at all.” At the Baidoa hospital, there is no electricity and no water to sterilize instruments. The doctors and nurses have even run out of gauze. Scores of donkey carts, as well as a few tanker trucks, line up at the single well that provides water for Baidoa. Local relief officials say the water is often gone by early afternoon. A modern water supply system built by the Chinese and a Finnish-built electrical grid for Baidoa were looted or destroyed. Dr. Aden said efforts are being made to dig another well, but so far, they have been unsuccessful. Stalled by looters One of the most serious obstacles for relief efforts is the difficulty of moving supplies. The bulk of Baidoa’s relief supplies, as is the case in most inland areas, is brought in by airlift. On Saturday, U.S. Air Force cargo planes joined that airlift and began delivering aid to Baidoa. Civil unrest and armed bandits prevent relief groups from distributing food throughout the country in truck convoys that can transport much greater quantities. Gangs of gunmen exact fees from relief agencies for bringing in supplies of food by ship or plane.
Many relief trucks have been attacked even as they were leaving the port of Mogadishu. This month, the United Nations is scheduled to bring in armed troops to provide security for relief supplies. But some relief officials are concerned that the U.N. troops may escalate the violence in Somalia. “What’s going to happen if you have hundreds of (Somali) guards out of work?” asked Stephen Tomlin, country director for the International Medical Corps in Somalia. “You will have some very unhappy and heavily armed people.” “A kind of balance” Mr. Oberson of the Red Cross said relief workers have found ways to work with Somali clans, using Somali guards to protect supplies. “There is a kind of balance here,” he said. One suggestion, which has the support of some relief officials as well as officials who are part of one of the largest of Somalia’s warring armies, is to re-establish Somalia’s police force, whose numbers include different clans. Even without food being shipped overland, large amounts of the supplies brought in by air never reach those in need because of pilfering and armed looting. Baidoa, for example, has a flourishing market where relief supplies are sold with impunity. Near the city’s largest mosque, merchants sell rice, beans and flour from 50-kilogram bags clearly marked as relief supplies. Packages of high-protein biscuits, also relief supplies, are a common item. Only a few merchants make any attempt to cover up the markings. Supplies lacking at the hospital can be bought in stalls at the market. Perhaps not coincidentally, the hospital’s pharmacy was looted about two weeks ago. “It’s remarkable that we can’t get a convoy in, but the black market traffic goes almost anywhere,” one relief worker in Baidoa said.
Col. Yusuf Sharif Nur, governor of Baidoa, said that the primary problem is not looting but rather “not enough food.” He also complained that the International Committee of the Red Cross “distributes where they want,” including to people who are not sympathetic or are enemies of the United Somali Congress, the faction that holds sway in Baidoa. He said the congress could do a better job of distribution. Available at a price It is apparent that some food outside the relief network, as well as other supplies, is being distributed. Fresh beef and goat is readily available from several stalls, as are grapefruit, limes, fresh beans and tomatoes. The market offers souvenirs, laundry detergent, shower thongs and a hundred other commodities. The Bikiin Baar & Restaurant serves spaghetti with camel meat, as well as assorted dishes. Patrons can be seated inside or at tables with umbrellas on the patio, which offers a limited view of the pathos on the street, where the starving sleep in the dirt or beg. When one Westerner tried to offer her unfinished spaghetti to a hungry child hovering outside, the patio was suddenly invaded by dozens of youngsters. The restaurant’s owner cleared the crowd by menacing an AK-47 assault rifle. One boy was knocked down in the rush to safety. Weakened by hunger, he had difficulty rising to his feet. The sound of the restaurant owner pulling back the bolt of the AK-47 brought the boy up, and he staggered away.
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