Famine squeezes life out of southern Somalia

Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:54am EDT
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By Richard Lough

DHOBLEY, Somalia (Reuters) - The semi-arid lands surrounding the frontier town of Dhobley in southern Somalia have become a dust-bowl, the thorny scrub stripped of all vegetation as famine grips the region and an exodus of the starving empties its villages.

Dhobley's buildings are riddled with bullet holes, the scars of battles earlier this year when Somali troops and fighters from the Ras Kamboni militia, allied to the embattled government, routed Islamist militants from the frontier town.

Gunmen draped in ammunition belts ride heavily armed 4x4s, maintaining a jumpy peace. The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels are now hunkered down just 20 km (12 miles) to the east in the village of Dagalama and 30 km (20 miles) to the south in Hawina.

The scene is similar across many parts of southern Somalia where the United Nations declared a famine last month, putting 3.7 million Somalis, the majority of them in southern rebel-controlled regions, at risk of starvation.

Abdullahi Abdisalam can only watch as the region's worst drought in decades decimates his livestock herd and pushes food prices beyond the reach of most, slowly squeezing the life out his small grocery shack.

"I had invested everything in those cattle. Most have died, the others are so skinny they're worthless," said Abdisalam, running his hand through a large sack of beans.

He, however, is among the more fortunate, with a small, albeit ailing, business to fall back on.

Dhobley was once a buzzing trading post, the entry point into Kenya, the region's biggest economy. Now the only people passing through are exhausted families trekking to the world's biggest refugee camp on the other side of the border.   Continued...

<p>Rukiya Mohamed, a severely malnourished one-year-old girl refugee from Madaitu Village in Somalia, is wrapped in foil at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) clinic at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transit centre in Dolo Ado near the Ethiopia-Somalia border August 11, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya</p>