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Somalia

A Day-Trip to Dhobley, Somalia

I haven’t been back to Europe for nearly two years. A few days before I was due to fly back to England I was asked if I could go to Somalia, for a day trip just over the Kenyan border. “Sure”, I said, “when is it?” I was keen to see as much of Somalia as I could, and I had failed to reach the other side of the border when Chemi and I drove up a few weeks previously.

“The eleventh” came the reply.

“Euh, that’s the day I’m flying back to London.”

“What time is the flight?” asked my editor.

“Not ‘til the evening” I replied.

“It’ll be fine. You’ll be back by the evening. Can you go?”

And so, with a bag packed for five weeks in the UK and in France, I drove to Wilson airport at some un-Godly hour of the morning, and boarded a small charter plane for a visit by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to Dhobley.

We did our work, I became a convert to the idea of giving money to cattle rather than people - preventing their deaths would save many more lives and is more cost-effective, they tell me - and then flew back to Nairobi. An hour spent in traffic, a spot of writing and editing the pictures, and I just about had time to take a shower before jumping in another taxi for the airport.

The following day, I would be in London, a world away from the conflict and famine of Somalia, and trying to explain everything I have seen over the last two years.

Fleeing Drought

Hassan Ali has a canteen of water slung over one shoulder, in his right hand he holds a walking stick, and in his left, a blackened kettle. A scarf is draped over his head to protect him from the midday sun, he stands in thin, cracked flip-flops, and wears a blue, short-sleeved shirt over polo-shirt, with a Somali wrap-around skirt around his waist. This is all he has left.

With the sun beating over-head, he pours a little water from his kettle over his feet to wash them, ablutions before the dhuhr (noon) prayers.

Hassan is forty-two years old, and fifteen days ago he left his home in Dinsour, Somalia, his livelihood destroyed by the drought that has ravaged Somalia. Two kilometres behind him stands the Somali-Kenyan border, and ahead of him lies the Dadaab refugee complex - the largest refugee camp in the world.

This is where Hassan and his five compatriots are heading. Hassan’s wife and children left Dinsour for Dadaab several weeks previously, whilst he stayed on to try and struggle through the drought, to save his home and land. Now he is walking to join them, a small family amongst 380,000 refugees.

When he arrives, Hassan will register with the camp authorities, and try to locate his family. The camp is already several times over capacity, and it can take days to register, and weeks to receive a refugee—and therefore ration—card.

But before he can do that, Hassan has over one hundred kilometres across the hot sands ahead of him, with little respite. The few, small villages en-route are themselves suffering from the drought, and have already seen so many refugees heading to Dadaab.

Dadaab & Drought

The bus bounded over pot-holed roads, heading north-east from Nairobi into the arid scrubland towards the Somali border. We were seven, crammed into the back seat of this behemoth, thrown upwards out of our seats on some of the nastier bumps, my head once hitting the roof.

Past Garissa, all that lay ahead of us was the Somali border—an unruly frontier—and Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.

The three camps that comprise the Dadaab refugee complex, and which are already over-capacity, have swelled in recent months, their numbers growing due to the drought (and subsequent famine) ravaging Somalia.

I began working on the drought back in May, covering the drought-displaced in Mogadishu. Conditions were terrible back then, and people were arriving into the war-torn capital in a deplorable state. I had never seen malnutrition this bad.

This did not prepare me, however, for what I would encounter in Dadaab. The size of the place is overwhelming; the sheer number of people living here, as refugees from a war-torn country, many for over a decade. The camps are overwhelmed by the number of people arriving, unable to process that many (over 1000) people each day. And in the hospitals, the severity of the malnutrition was unlike anything I had encountered, neither in eastern Sudan, South Sudan nor Mogadishu.

When I was in Mogadishu, it seemed like no-one was covering the drought, it took over a month for the pictures to appear on the Guardian website. Now, half of the Juba independence press corps. The drought is all over the international news, and rightly so. Through a proper response, political will and, admittedly, with cooperation from al-Shebab, much of this could have been prevented.

» For more coverage of the drought in the Horn of Africa, see my portfolio

Even the Schools are Displaced

The Schools are Displaced 

 It is not only the people of Somalia who are  displaced . Schools often move from site to site, as Mogadishu’s conflict flows throughout the city, rendering classrooms once filled with the sound of children void through the fear of incoming shells. 

 Here, children at Wil-Wal school wait for lessons at a temporary site in Shangani district. The previous site of the school was closed as fighting approached, also displacing many of the families who lived nearby. The school committee is currently looking for a more permanent site for the school, and currently share an area with many several displaced families.

The Schools are Displaced

It is not only the people of Somalia who are displaced. Schools often move from site to site, as Mogadishu’s conflict flows throughout the city, rendering classrooms once filled with the sound of children void through the fear of incoming shells.

Here, children at Wil-Wal school wait for lessons at a temporary site in Shangani district. The previous site of the school was closed as fighting approached, also displacing many of the families who lived nearby. The school committee is currently looking for a more permanent site for the school, and currently share an area with many several displaced families.

The Drought Displaced

Driving through the streets of downtown Mogadishu, waves lap against the legs of a child playing in the stagnant waters of last night’s torrential rains. Behind him stands the ruins of the Italian cathedral, built over 80 years previously, now a mere shell after an artillery attack from militant group Al-Shebab.

In the crumbling ruins of Vishio Governo, the Italian Governor’s former offices opposite the cathedral, a swathe of ...