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A drought triggered by climate change has led to famine in the Horn of Africa


Devastating drought, decades of conflict and a food crisis now leave millions of people suffering in the Horn of Africa. Somalia alone is going through its fifth failed rainy season. Nearly half its population - that's almost 8 million people - face famine. And according to the U.N. humanitarian branch known as OCHA, the Horn of Africa is the center of one of the world's climate emergencies.

Daud Jiran is the Somalia country director for the aid organization Mercy Corps. We've reached him in Nairobi. Thanks so much for being with us.

DAUD JIRAN: Thank you for hosting me today.

SIMON: You have recently been in the area. What did you see?

JIRAN: When we go around the field, we see families that have lost everything, mothers who are coming to major towns with children who are in a very severe malnourished state, men who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. And a lot of these people end up in internally displaced camps. So there's a lot of devastation and a lot of people who are weak and really who are facing a very dire situation.

SIMON: Many people have died?

JIRAN: Definitely. I mean, the drought has been continuing for five consecutive seasons. And it's estimated that, only in 2022, around 43,000 people have died. So yes, definitely there was the catastrophic effect of death as a result of the famine and the drought.

SIMON: What kind of difficult choices have some people had to make to try to stay alive?

JIRAN: Honestly, some of the stories when you talk to these people are heartbreaking. I mean, families who are split - you will find mothers who have to leave some of their children with their fathers to stay back in what they know as home and then leave with the younger ones. In some cases, people were reporting that some of their, you know, family members died on the way, especially children, and they had to just bury them hurriedly and leave. So these are the kind of heartbreaking stories you hear when you talk to these people. And some of the decisions they make are really very difficult decisions.

SIMON: Is climate change an important factor?

JIRAN: Definitely. We can say climate change is the biggest contributor to the situation the Somali people are currently facing. Somalia doesn't have many industries and honestly is not a contributor to some of the actions associated with - leading to the climate change, but the Somali people are suffering the brunt of the climate change. I mean, seasons are becoming shorter, rains are almost becoming very short or failing. And over the last 2 to 3 years, it has been very severe. And also, we have seen, too, because of the heavy rains that happen in the parts of the Ethiopian highlands, some of the rivers in Somalia getting those overflows, leading to also devastations of flood just after a very long, severe drought. So definitely - climate change is really one of the major underlying issues that's affecting these people now.

SIMON: And though Ukraine may be a long way away, has the war there affected delivery of food supplies?

JIRAN: Definitely. Definitely. I mean, as a result of the Ukraine crisis, we have seen the global food prices, especially of cereals and wheat flour kind of based foodstuffs, going up. And Somalis, as a population, are very much reliant on this. Also, oil prices have gone up, especially the cooking oils. So food prices - hikes have really contributed to people not being able to buy the essentials. So definitely - the Ukraine crisis has also contributed to the situation.

SIMON: The U.N. pledged to raise $7 billion for efforts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. And I gather they've, so far, been able to raise just 2.4 billion. Why has this been difficult?

JIRAN: Some of the reasons may be the change in the world situations. I mean, the problem in the Horn and, in particular, places like Somalia are forgotten because of the recent ongoing crises in areas like Ukraine and Syria and maybe the earthquakes in Turkey. But yes, definitely, those are also crises that need support. However, I think the situation in Somalia and partly the Horn - Ethiopia and Kenya - I think not need to be forgotten. Some of these things that were done recently, including the donor conference - or humanitarian donor conference for the Horn, is a welcome gesture. It's something to be applauded and appreciated that some government like the U.S. government was on the forefront to respond. But the reality is more need to be done. The people need more support in terms of building their recovery and building their resilience to be able to cope with the ongoing climatic conditions.

SIMON: Daud Jiran is the Somalia country director for the aid organization Mercy Corps. Thank you so much for being with us.

JIRAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.