First Person

“Your son is not sick; he just needs to eat.”

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Guest blog post by Louis Belanger, Oxfam media officer, who is currently working in Kenya.

It’s been more than 10 days since the UN declared a famine in Somalia.

As aid workers, the “f” word hits us hard. A famine? How did we get there? How did we let the situation deteriorate to the point where people are actually dying of hunger?

For months, Oxfam had been warning against the upcoming food crisis. Not just in Somalia but all across the Horn of Africa region. Several countries have been seriously affected by the drought, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, and – surprisingly – the country I’m writing from: Kenya, where front-page headlines read “The Shame of Kenya” and “Elderly Kenyan Woman Died of Hunger.” A chilling reminder that the food crisis is not sparing anyone.

Our team in the region has been working around the clock, providing basic assistance to tens of thousands to prevent such deaths. We are now reaching more than1.2 million people across the Horn of Africa. With the generosity of the public and donors, the Oxfam family hopes to reach just over three million.

At the border

At the border of Kenya and Somalia, we talked to a few of the people Oxfam is assisting. We met them on the outskirts of the Dadaab refugee camp. There, we are providing water and basic sanitation to over 20,000 people. Their stories are as dramatic as they are inspirational.

Meet Abdi Ahmed Yakow. A man in his 50s we met in his tent with two-year-old son Abbas. Both look in relatively good shape, but Abdi is suffering from a bad cough.

“It’s from walking days and days in the desert. The sand makes me cough,” Abdi tells us. He’s taking medicines for it. They are costly but badly needed.

What about Abbas? How is he doing?

“He’s better now. When we arrived, we took him for medical treatment. We went several times because we thought he was really sick. They told me, “ ‘Your son is not sick. He just needs to eat.’ So they gave him Plumpy’nut, and he’s better now.”

Plumpy’nut is a peanut-based food used in famine-relief situations. His little one looks frail, but hopefully he’ll be fine.

Abdi’s story is what we’ve been hearing too many times in recent weeks. His family walked for 30 long days in the Somali desert to get here. His pregnant wife barely made it to the camp. On the first day, she gave birth to another boy. The mother and the youngest one are still under care right now. We hope they both make it.

Also at the Dadaab camp, an Oxfam staff member talked to Nuriya Sanbur Hassan from Southern Somalia. Nuriya is 40 and has seven children. She lost one baby a few days after she arrived in the camp. The medical teams couldn’t save him.

“My children and I were walking, and all we were using for food was green grass and leaves. The second day after we got here one of my children got diarrhea and this led to his death,” she says.

“I have lost one child and the other is malnourished. I have no way to buy her milk, and she can only take milk – no other foods.”

We draw on these stories to motivate ourselves to do more, to reach more people and literally save more lives. These people have gone through just about as much suffering human beings are capable of taking in. The least we can do now is provide them with basic relief: water, some food, and a place to sleep.

We’ve got the best of the best of Oxfam’s staff here in the Horn of Africa. Engineers, health workers, logisticians, field analysts, and coordinators are all working hard to establish programs for hundreds of thousands of people.

With their help and your support, we’ll be able to bring some comfort and perhaps a sense of normality to people like Abdi and Nuriya. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+