Somali catastrophe ‘largely unnoticed’
Drought in the Horn of Africa is deepening after the failure of annual rains, and the UN estimates that more than 14.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The BBC’s Adam Mynott reports from Somalia, one of the worst affected countries.
Owlia Yusuf Ibrahim has walked for two days with her two small children, Amina, who is six, and four-year-old Fatima.
They have come to the village of El Barde because they heard that the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) was distributing food there.
Weak and tired, they have eaten nothing since they set off.
Owlia has left her husband and three elder children in the bush looking after what is left of their livestock.
Three successive years of drought have decimated their animals.
"We had 20 camels, 10 cows and 30 goats," she told me. "Now only five weak goats are left alive."
The savage Somali climate and civil war in the country have reduced Owlia’s family from relative prosperity to abject poverty in the space of a few months.
Owlia takes Fatima to a supplementary feeding station set up by the UN in the village to monitor the under-fives and waits in line behind dozens of other women and children.
The infants are weighed and measured; all are underweight, some are showing the first signs of chronic malnutrition: distended stomachs, sunken eyes and stick-thin limbs.
El Barde sits just inside the Somali border from Ethiopia. The village has developed around a water hole where herdsmen come with their animals and it is a transit point for pastoralists moving in and out of Ethiopia just a few kilometres away.
The land stretching away outside El Barde should be carpeted with a thick layer of grass following seasonal rains, but the rains have failed for a third successive year and the ground is dry.
Wind picks up the dust and it blows away in dirty brown clouds.
Another woman, Owlia Ibrahim Mohammed, joins hundreds of others who have gathered on the outskirts of the village for the monthly distribution of food by the UN World Food Programme.
They are getting a month’s supply of grain, pulses, salt and oil.
The WFP trucks have driven 200km (124 miles) across Somalia from the port capital of Mogadishu.
It is hazardous journey through countless checkpoints manned by militias; at each checkpoint payment is taken.
It is the chronic insecurity that distinguishes the humanitarian crisis in Somalia from other regions in the Horn of Africa.
Forces of the weak interim government backed up by Ethiopian forces come under daily attack from insurgent militias, and a recent peace deal between the transitional government and some of its opponents resulted in an upsurge in violence from militias not included in the agreement.
The fighting makes parts of the country too dangerous for some aid agencies to operate in.
Somalis have also been hit by soaring world food prices, a collapse of the currency and the unrelenting drought.
The deputy country director of the WFP, Denise Brown, says it is a "catastrophic combination of circumstances".
The insecurity and inaccessibility of Somalia means that the humanitarian crisis – which is expected to affect 3.5m people by the end of the year – is happening largely unseen and unnoticed by the world.